A Eulogy and Gospel Exhortation for Suzanne

One of the prayers of the people in the Book of Common Prayer states:

We bless your holy Name for all your servants who departed this life in your faith and fear, praying you would grant us grace to follow their good examples, that with them we might partake in your heavenly kingdom.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to preach briefly at the funeral of my beloved grandmother Suzanne. As for finding ways to “follow their good examples”, this was not difficult at all and I was glad that I got to share them with those who were there to listen. I figured I might as well post the text of what I said for anyone else to read.

photo of suzzane

Sermon for Suzanne Jepsen’s Funeral Sunday, December 13, 2002

Good afternoon. My name is Matthew and I’m one of Suzanne’s grandson’s, Bill and Nancy’s son.

I want to begin by reading to you a passage of scripture you may have heard read or sung this season, as we are in the season of Advent, the time of waiting for Christ’s return, and waiting to celebrate his birth on Christmas day. These verses appear in the “Comfort Ye” portion of Handles Messiah oratorio.

Isaiah 40:1-5
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand Double for all her sins.”

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth;
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

These words from the prophet Isaiah speak of the coming of Jesus Christ to save humanity, and at this time we look for his coming again. Suzanne looked for this too, every day, and it was the source of her hope and of her character. Many of you who knew Suzanne are well aware that her life was widely characterized by love and kindness. She of course had many flaws, as all people, do but the dominant qualities of her speech and actions were gentleness, patience, understanding, and goodwill. These are the fruits of the holy spirit and they were experienced by us around her as God worked in her heart and life.

I’ll share just a few examples. We’ve had a lot of people who couldn’t attend today send letters in describing some of their own memories of Suzanne.

Anne and Dennis Doherty, who lived in Heppner for many years, wrote to say: Something I can share with you is that 44 years ago when we learned that our infant daughter was deaf, your mother was there with the doctor and me. I didn’t yet know her well, but she sensed that we were private people, trying to determine how best to deal with this. Your mother kept our secret. She started a prayer chain for us, but kept our identities a secret.
For two weeks we struggled with how to deal with this. Finally we were able to meet with experts at OHSU. The day we drove to Portland, I realized that our little girl suddenly responded to sound. The doctors there discovered her hearing to be perfect. It still is.

We didn’t know the source of this miracle until years later when I was visiting with your mother and the rest of our bridge gals one evening. After I told the women of our miracle, your mother finally revealed that she and her prayer community had been asking God for this miracle. I couldn’t stop my tears. I had doubted God for so many years after the death of our first baby, but I realized that He had heard the prayers and hadn’t given up on us. I will always thank your mother for her faith in God, in prayer, and in me.

Kelly Christman wrote in to say:
I have only fond memories of her, and one that goes way back to childhood I will never forget… When she was a nurse for Doctor Wolfe I was mesmerized by her gentle and kind personality as well as her physical beauty. I thought she was so pretty and nice but couldn’t believe she worked in such a scary place. Dr. Wolfe gave me stitches in my scalp, for the first time in my life, and it was not pleasant experience, except for Suzanne. Thereafter, when I had to return for other ailments, her calming presence helped me deal better with my fear

I remember so many of Suzanne’s kind actions toward my family, to my brothers and sisters, my cousin, and to many of the community here in Heppner. She often led the way for many of the charitable things that she and Bob did together when he was still here. I remember all her work to make the community a better place too, whether it be in getting the Willow Creek Terrace assisted living facility built, or by beautifying the neighborhood, or even cheering on the football team. She was always there in a full spectrum of positive upbuilding actions because she primarily thought of others before herself. She also had a healthy sense of humor and didn’t take herself too seriously. This kind of humility is also a fruit of the spirit.

Personally, I remember her always listening to me, even when I was an angsty teenager. She always had her cupboards stocked with my favorite cookies when I visited. She would even listen along to my silly techno music in the car. She’s also the one who taught me to say the Lord’s Prayer when I didn’t know what else to pray. She didn’t put pressure on me to perform or be a better person, but that acceptance gave me the freedom to BE better, knowing I was loved regardless. Suzanne most often exhibited love in the way that God does – in an unconditional, unilateral way – love that doesn’t have a list of prerequisites.

And so, honestly, I know God better because of Suzanne’s loving actions. We live in a world dominated by performance measurements – whether you deserve this or that, deserve that paycheck, deserve to be helped, where trust takes years to earn and just minutes to throw in the trash. But God’s love for us is one-way. He isn’t waiting for us to reach some particular threshold in being a nice person before he’ll love us back. Almost everything else on earth works that way, be He doesn’t. But that’s hard to know, even if you go to church all the time and hear is spelled out in the bible or wherever else. But Suzanne’s love showed me, and showed many of us, a bit of what it’s like to be loved by God in an unconditional, unilateral way.

St. Paul says it this way in his letter to Titus.

Titus 3:4–7
When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Suzanne put her faith in Jesus Christ, and it largely defined her life.
She knew the source of life, of real life, of eternal life.
But now she’s gone.
We are gathering here today to celebrate her and to celebrate the Lord who made her and celebrate the Lord who redeemed her.

You are going to grieve if you knew her, you are going to grieve, you’re going to feel things. You’re going to feel angry, you’re going to feel hurt, you’re going to feel sad, you’re going to feel relieved, you’re going to feel joyful, you’re going to feel nothing. And that’s OK. Grieving is part of the process. Grieving is important. It’s part of what we have to do as human beings.

But we don’t grieve as people who have no hope. There ARE people that grieve as those who have no hope, who are certain that what you see is all there is. That’s it. The end of the line is right here. Chop! But this is not the end of the line. Suzanne’s body failing on her is not the end of the line for her. And it will not be the end of the line when our bodies fail either, if we are in Christ.

Suzanne is not going to heaven because she was a nice person (most of the time). Suzanne is going to heaven because of the man who died on the cross for her, and Suzanne clung to that hope. Her soul rests not in the ground, but in Jesus Christ. If you aren’t sure if you are ever going to see Suzanne again, if you think all this talk about resurrection sounds sketchy, I would encourage you to pray to God, your maker, and ask his Holy Spirit to change your heart. If you are even listening to this right now, there is a good chance that Suzanne herself got on her knees and asked God the same thing, for YOU, just as she regularly did for herself.

1 Corinthians 15:20-23
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through one man (Adam), the resurrection of the dead comes also through one man (Jesus).
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

As Suzanne’s short-term memory failed this past year, her anxiety also faded and she began to worry less about the problems of the world and about dying. For a time now, all we have left of Suzanne are our memories of her. And that’s sad. It really is. But it’s also temporary. We will see Suzanne again because only her body is gone from us, for a little while.

But will you see Suzanne again? We can talk about the Love of God all day, but Jesus himself also gives us serious warnings and it would be disingenuous of me to not mention them. Sin and death are still at work in the world and in our own hearts, corrupting everything it touches and continuously working to make us into nasty, petty, and even violent people – filling our hearts with filth. 2020 has been a heck of a year to see that in action in our communities! Suzanne knew this too and clung to Jesus Christ as her savior to cleanse her from these things regularly, and now, finally.

Somehow, though God’s love for us in infinite and one-way, he still gives us the dignity of choosing to follow him or not. Theologians and philosophers have been debating the mechanics of that for literally thousands of years, but they are no closer to explaining exactly how it works or why. It’s a mystery. But what we are supposed to do about it, as far as we can understand, is NOT a mystery.

In Luke chapter 13, several folks came to Jesus and asked him about some current events. Listen to his reply.

Luke 13:1-5 NLT
About this time Jesus was informed that the government had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple.
“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered?
Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem?
No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”

Did you hear about those three people that died of COVID in the hospital in Hermiston last week? Were they some of the most terrible sinners in eastern Oregon? Of course not! But unless you repent from your sins and turn to God, you will perish too.

Today, if you do not follow Jesus Christ, then my word to you is simple. Turn from your sins and trust in him!
Today, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, my word to you is exactly the same. Turn from yours sins, throw them in the trash, and trust in him!

Jesus himself said,

John 11:25-26
I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Whosever believes in me,
though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.

“What has sin wrought in the world? Death! But, Alleluia, and thanks be to God, what happened to our Lord Jesus in His Rising from the dead will happen also to Suzanne!”

Now Suzanne was a member of the Episcopal church her whole life. Because of the virus restrictions, it didn’t work out to have this service there like we did for Bob a few years ago. But nearly every Sunday of her life, Suzanne recited this prayer before receiving communion, as is the tradition there:

“We praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:”
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

She said that regularly to remind herself of who her Lord and savior and hope was. Now, on this Sunday, she is saying it again, only a bit closer to those angels and archangels than we are standing here.

For those of you that remember the ways in which Suzanne loved you without caring a bit about whether you loved her back or what you could do for her, remember, that is what God is like. Lay down your burdens and come to him, and he will give you rest.

Rest in peace Grandma.

Books read in 2020

So few books this year! Why? COVID? No. Rather, I’ve shifted gears almost entirely to making music, at least for now. Instead of reading, I wrote, recorded, produced, and released two full albums of original music. I will likely post some more about that later.

The Inklings, Humphrey Carpenter (2nd time)
Keep Going, Austin Kleon (twice)
Purgatorio, Dante, Dorothy Sayers translation and notes (twice)
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield (2nd time)
Blessed are the Misfits, Brant Hansen
Holy Island: A Lenten Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne, James W. Kennedy
Paul for Everyone: Romans, N.T. Wright
Who Will Deliver Us?, Paul Zahl (3rd time)
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller

As the Deer

Here is a cover of the classic 1991 Maranatha Christian praise song, loosely based on Psalm 42. It’s always been one of my favorites, even though more than a few renditions of it veer into cheesiness. A few days ago, I was listening to the Broken Record Podcast and I heard musician Nathaniel Rateliff and host Bruce Headlam ridiculing this song while Nathaniel recounted his fundy childhood. Well, I’m sorry but I really don’t think this song sucks as much as they say and so I decided to take a stab at producing an honest version of how I hear it. I hope you enjoy it. If you want to sing along, vanilla slides are provided.

This is my second attempt at recording a song in Logic. I’m fairly happy with how some of it turned out, but I feel like the compression and EQ on both the vocals and especially the guitar are lacking. At some point I just had to say “stop” and ship it and move on to the next thing. For the synth pads (which I’m a complete sucker for) I used Air Hybrid.

Some simple sing-along worship videos for church

Since the start of the COVID-19 virus lockdown a little over a month ago, our local church has been recording video sermons and posting them online Sunday morning, along with some announcements and an occasional testimony or scripture reading. That has all been just fine, but for worship music a YouTube playlist has been provided. The list of 3-4 songs is picked by our usual worship team leaders so they are ones everyone knows. Unfortunately, they’ve been nigh impossible to sing along with.

These are usually the official recordings or live performances of contemporary groups like Hillsong or Bethel or Chris Tomlin. They sound great. They look cool. And they are nearly impossible to sing along with, let alone “worship” along with, whatever that means. They are highly produced and usually include no lyrics. When they do include lyrics, it’s usually accompanied by busy moving sappy stock nature video, making it hard to read and visually distracting. This stuff is just fine for what it is, but it’s not for congregational singing. It’s been driving me nuts so after the first week we didn’t even try to use the provided playlist but rather sang the same songs or similar in the house with our own piano, guitar, or whatever else was around.

This week was my turn to pick songs for the Sunday worship playlist so I decided that instead of complaining, I’d try to remedy the situation by recording some really vanilla straight-ahead versions of tunes and then putting really simple slides over them. The idea was to make them easy to sing along with in your living room. I think they turned out alright.

I sang and played guitar, my wife sang and played piano, and my oldest daughter played violin and whistle. They were recorded in one take, on one track, with a stereo mic. Assuming they are well received, we’ll hopefully do some more next time!

Understanding death and resurrection

It’s Good Friday of Holy Week here in the disease quarantine that is spring 2020. I’m reading the Lenten meditations of James Kennedy in his book on Lindisfarne, the Holy Island. I’m going to quote from the passage today at length and add a few things.

Popular science guru Neil deGrasse Tyson appears in a new Master Class advertisement that’s playing a lot these days saying:

One of the great challenges in life is knowing enough to think you’re right but not enough to know you’re wrong.

He’s said the same in various tweets and interviews over the years. And he’s right! But this quote is pretty rich coming deGreass Tyson, a guy who’s made his entire career on doing just that – talking with faux-authority about crap he knows nothing about. He understands contemporary astrophysics really well. That’s great. But that knowledge often doesn’t translate well into other branches of science, and especially into psychology, philosophy, politics, economics, and theology, but that’s never stopped him from running his mouth non-stop to become one of the contemporary prophets of scientism. He’s easy to ignore though. I don’t need to pay $180 for his online video course.

Closer to home, it’s discouraging to me when pastors and Evangelical Thought Leaders do the same thing. Some do so while feigning modestly or even embedding literal prayers for humility in their talks or writing. Everyone needs to take their own advice on intellectual humility a bit more seriously. The fact is, the world contains a mountain of things that cannot be explained. Many of these things we can observe and know are real (in our heads or hearts/souls or both), but articulating exactly how they work is a much taller order. What the Resurrection of Christianity is, is one of those things:

Paul spends half the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians trying to answer the question, “How are the dead raised up?” But to explain how the dead are raised up is as difficult as giving exact answers to questions concerning the intricate workings of nature, the fascinating discoveries of science, or even the composing of a symphony.

It would be just as simple to ask, and equally impossible to answer, how does the heart beat or how does the eye see? We could give a word picture of the eye, for example, this unique member of the body, without which man would walk in darkness. We could liken the eye to a camera which takes pictures, colored pictures and moving pictures, without once reloading, and which focuses automatically in any light, at any distance. We could note that it also develops, prints, and files away countless pictures as mental images in a vast “morgue.” But when the description is finished we still don’t know how such a complex instrument could have been conceived and executed. But it was, for God was adequate to do it. Man’s knowledge, or lack of it, does not affect his seeing. It would be foolish of any man, wouldn’t it, to say “I don’t believe it,” just because he can’t understand how the eye can possibly see?

Or take atom smashing. It is “old stuff” now, but just ask a scientist to explain what happens when an atom is smashed. He will probably say that the atom is not smashed or split at all, that it is transmuted into radiant energy. Atom smashing, which brings to mind an infinitesimal speck disappearing into nothingness, is really a process which releases something the scientists call “radiant energy,” and the atom is not destroyed at all, but transmuted, changed from one form to another.

Man can describe such miracles as sight and nuclear fission, but he cannot explain them.

So it is with the resurrection life and the question, “How are the dead raised up?” Inconceivable as all this is to finite minds, men have clung to the faith that continued existence and growth in some form after death are part of God’s plan and in them is the fulfillment of man’s deep-seated longing for completion.

God has planted within men their longings and their needs. He has also provided the means for satisfying them. The Christian faith declares that God is sufficient to satisfy all human hunger, whether for physical food or for hope beyond the curtain of time, and that men can trust Him.

Paul’s illustration of the seed dying and bringing forth life in a new kind of body is good, and refers to the spiritual body as well as the physical. “That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.”

Men are told that physical matter is never destroyed, but only changes its form, which is its death and resurrection, and no one questions this fact. Is it any less easy to believe that Spirit, which makes fleshly matter vibrant and creative, is not wasted eternally, but changes its form, and goes through a similar death and resurrection by God’s grace? One of the famous Compton brothers, the physicist, tells us that “Science has found no cogent reason for supposing that what is of importance in a man can be buried in a grave,” and he might have added, “forever dead.”

This was written in 1957 – a little over 60 years ago. The analogy of “smashing atoms” to describe nuclear fission was dropped long ago. I think it was already pretty much out of fashion when I was a kid in the 1980s. The analogies you hear to describe it today probably won’t be kicking around a century from now as our understanding of it improves and scientists continue to ferret out the details in more recently-built large particle accelerators. Our ways of thinking and talking about theology have of course come a long way too since the first century but they still don’t get anywhere close to uncovering the mysteries of the deep things of God. And that’s OK. We don’t have to understand something all the way or even half the way for it to be very true.

Live from Quarantine, Scottish folk ballads

1. Is There For Honest Poverty?
2. My Parents Raised Me Tenderly
3. Sweet Afton
4. Battle of Waterloo
5. Glenlogie
6. Shebeg Sheemore
7. How Can I Keep From Singing?
8. Pretty Saro
9. The Apprentice Boy
10. The Bonnie Banks o’ Fordie
11. Sir Patrick Spens
12. Concordiances
13. The Wild Geese
14. Celtic Wedding Intro
15. The Party

A lot of these are Scottish ballads I ripped off from Jim Malcolm (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!). Some are also covers of John Doyle, Nickel Creek, and even Enya. We’re all trapped at home right now course, so there was nobody to listen at the time. It’s “live” because I did the whole thing in one take so it’s pretty rough around the edges. I even threw in some fake crowd noise for fun.

The Wild Geese

This month, I’ve been learning to play and sing the the song The Wild Geese, as performed by Jim Malcolm in this recording:

Most of the challenge has been in getting a good sound on the harmonica while it’s strapped to my face with a rack. That requires all the brain power so the guitar part needs to be utterly automatic.

Anyway, I really love this song. It was written by the poet Violet Jabob in 1915 and turned into a song by folk singer Jim Reid sometime in 60s or 80s. The lyrics is posted below. The song is in Scots English, which is about 70% English, but with just enough oddly-pronounced loan words to make it kind of hard to understand.

“Oh tell me fit was on yer road, ye roarin Norland wind?
As ye come blawin frae the land that’s never frae ma mind.
Ma feet they traivel England but I’m deein for the North.”
“Ma man, I saw the siller tides rin up the Firth o Forth.”

“Aye wind, I ken them weel eneuch an fine they fa and rise,
And fain I’d feel the creepin mist on yonder shore that lies.
But tell me as ye pass them by, fit saw ye on the way?”
“Ma man, I rocked the rovin gulls that sail abin the Tay.”

“Bit saw ye naethin leein wind afore ye come tae Fife?
For there’s muckle lyin ‘yont the Tay that’s mair tae me nor life.”
“Ma man, I swept the Angus braes that ye hivna trod for years.”
“Oh wind, forgie a hameless loon that canna see for tears.”

“And far abin the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
A lang, lang skein o beatin wings wi their heids toward the sea,
And aye their cryin voices trailed ahint them on the air.”
“Oh wind, hae mercy, haud your wheesht for I daurna listen mair.”

The Anglicized version is a bit easier to understand:

“Oh tell me what was on your road, you roaring Norland wind?
As you come blowing from the land that’s never from my mind.
My feet they travel England but I’m dying for the North.”
“My man, I saw the silver tides run up the Firth o Forth.”

“Oh wind, I ken them well enough and fine they fall and rise,
And fain I’d feel the creeping mist on yonder shore that lies.
But tell me as ye pass them by, what saw ye on the way?”
“My man, I rocked the roving gulls that sail above the Tay.”

“But saw ye nothing, lying wind, before ye came to Fife?
For there’s much lying beyond the Tay that’s more to me than life.”
“My man, I swept the Angus braes that you havn’t trod for years.”
“Oh wind, forgive a homeless lad that cannot see for tears.”

“And far above the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
A long, long skein of beating wings with their heads toward the sea,
And aye their crying voices trailed behind them on the air.”
“Oh wind, have mercy, hold your tongue for I dare not listen more.”

The song is about a Scottish man living in England who is longing for his homeland. Nearly every other line mentions specific places in Scotland. Alas, I’ve never been to any of these places named, nor even traveled to the UK. I have zero personal or emotional connection to anything literally mentioned in the song. I also don’t miss and yet the song is in fact very emotional for me. It’s easy, by analogy, to use the speaker’s loneliness and longing as a stand-in for your own. I don’t long for my homeland (The Pacific Northwest), because I’m still here, but I do long for my REAL home.

Just last night I read in Dante’s Purgatorio (canto 28), the lady explaining how the longing for another place spoken of by poets is often a sort of genetic memory of our time in Eden:

Those who in ancient times have feigned in song
The Age of Gold and its felicity,
Dreamed of this place perhaps upon Parnassus.
Here was the human race in innocence;
Here evermore was Spring, and every fruit;
This is the nectar of which each one speaks.

Incidentally, as I going for a walk around the edge of town a few nights ago, the sound of real wild geese cut through my noise-cancelling headphones and made me stop in the dark and listen to an unseen flock of them by the creek. I recorded this with my phone, and though nothing is visible the flowing water and the honks are rather enchanting!


Books from my childhood: Lost Mines and Treasures

The first book I ever picked out and bought on my own was Lost Mines and Treasures of the Pacific Northwest. I was hitting yardsales on a Saturday morning with my mom. I think I must have been about eight years old. It’s still one of the only books I own on local history. I don’t even remember reading it, but it had the coolest map ever on the inside cover! (click to zoom in)


Books read in 2019

African Religion and Philosophy, John Mbiti
Tales of the Kingdom, David and Karen Maines (read aloud to the kids, 3rd time)
The Music Lesson, Victor Wooten
With Open Hands, Henri Nouwen
Something Beautiful for God, Malcolm Muggeridge
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (read aloud to the kids, 2nd time)
The Message in the Bottle, Walker Percy (partial)
On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, Albert Schweitzer
After You Believe, N.T. Wright (partial)
The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown (read aloud to the kids, mostly)
Dune, Frank Herbert
The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown
Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, by Rowan Williams
Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Rene Girard (2nd time)
Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
Waiting for God, Simone Weil
Advent, Flemming Rutledge (partial)

I read fewer books this year, and in particular read fewer aloud to the kids due to some logistic problems that have yet to be sufficiently solved. I have also broken away from the practice of fervently finishing every book I start. Some didn’t even make this list.

Training attention in academic studies as training in prayer

The following are some excerpts from Simone Weil’s “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” that I found particularly interesting.

The key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God. The quality of the attention counts for much of the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.

Of course school exercises only develop a lower kind of attention. Nevertheless, they are extremely effective in increasing the power of attention that will be available at the time of prayer, on condition that they are carried out with a view to this purpose and this purpose alone. Although people seem to be unaware of it today, the development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies. Most school tasks have a certain intrinsic interest as well, but such an interst is secondary. All tasks that really call upon the power of attention are interesting for the same reason to an almost equal degree.

If we concentrate our attention on trying to solve a problem of geometry, and if at the end of and hour we are no nearer to doing so than at the beginning, we have nevertheless been making progress each minute of that hour in another more mysterious dimension. Without our knowing or feeling it, this apparently barren effort has brought more light into the soul. The result will one day be discovered in prayer. Moreover, it may very likely be felt in some department of the intelligence in no way connected with mathematics. Perhaps he who made the unsuccessful effort will one day be able to grasp the beauty of a line of Racine more vividly on account of it. But it is certain that this effort will bear its fruit in prayer.

So it comes about that, paradoxical as it may seem, a Latin prose or a geometry problem, even though they are done wrong, may be of great service one day, provided we devote the right kind of effort to them. Should the occasion arise, they can one day make us better able to give someone in affliction exactly the help required to save him, at the supreme moment of his need.

With all the hyper-focus on utility, ROI, and job-skill training that has taken place in in the West in recent decades, this view on the nature and value of academic study sounds very foreign to our ears. And yet, on reflection of my own ~16 years of study in school and more years out of it, I think I agree.

What were the most valuable exercises I ever worked on in school? Keeping my eyes trained on the conductor during a 2.5 hour orchestra rehearsal. Reading every word of an essay out-loud a hundred times so as the tweak the rhetoric and even the sounds of the words until they were as true, convincing, and even beautiful as I could make them (in my limited skill and experience). Reading a really long and dense book slowly and trying to figure out what was being said. In all these cases I failed. My eyes strayed from the conductor. I let some clunky passages in my essay slide. I only understood maybe 15% of the heavy book. And none of these challenging exercises ever directly earned me a dime. I’ve never been a professional musician. I’ve never written a long speech or essay like that for my job. I’ve never learned any computer programming from digesting long books on the subject (sorry Donald Knuth!).

Looking back though, now that I’m nearly 40 years old, these were the very best things I ever did in school. They developed my attention, which has yielded truckloads of fruit. These things also, as Weil suggests, have taught me to pray better. And that’s solid gold.