Like Rich Soil Given Necessary Fallow Time

It’s not often that I get book recommendations from concerts, but I left Sandra McCracken’s April concert with a book recommendation hastily thumb-tapped into my notes app. Marilyn Chandler McEntyre waxes eloquent about the utility, potency, and urgency of words and the preservation of language in Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. If Wendell Berry, Robert Farrar Capon, Marilynne Robinson, and Dorothy Sayers were simmered together for several hours, the resulting potent reduction would be McEntyre. Each of the book’s chapters presents a strategy for how to recover and cultivate language. In an early chapter titled “Love Words,” she launches a beautiful word study on “felicity:” its rich meaning and the necessity of its recovery. The following quotation is lifted from this reflection.

“Happiness of this kind [felicity] is, in fact, more a point of view than a state of affairs. When I told a dejected young student recently that I thought happiness was often a matter of deciding to be happy, she looked at me as if I was not only cold-hearted and unsympathetic, but couldn’t possibly, with such an attitude, have a clue about what disappointment felt like. Such observations can sound glib, I admit. Yet I think they can be much-needed correctives to the commodified notion of happiness that links it so insistently with getting, spending, having, consuming, and receiving the blessings of privilege without much reference to the burdens of payment. There’s not much glamour in contentment, or much dramatic value, which may be the payoff that keeps some people in a state of perpetual crisis and discontent. But contentment is more durable than excitement or the quick thrill and, like rich soil that has been given necessary fallow time, may equip a person for a fuller harvest of satisfactions and a longer period of productivity than the synthetic quick fix of instant satisfaction.”

-Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (Eerdmans, 2009), p. 32

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