By Christine Dykstra
His thin back was always hunched over his desk, his face leaning into his textbook, his hands moving slowly over notebook paper to form letters so small, I’d strain to read them. When this student I’ll call Luke entered my summer-school classroom that first day, he seemed studious, a high-achiever. By the end of the first class, though, an intensive high-school etymology elective, I knew something was off. By day two, I knew Luke probably wouldn’t pass the class.
He stayed with it, however. In a hard conversation with his mother later that first week, she told me that he cried over the difficulty of the assignments, assignments that were challenging for most students. Most students, however, by first week’s end, kept pace with them. Not Luke. His mother revealed what I hadn’t expected: he was taking the class not because he needed the credit but because he wanted to, because he loved words and wanted to spend his summer days studying them, though the extra academic services he’d received for years could not bridge this gap, though he knew it meant tears (both his mother’s and his own), and though he knew mastery would elude him.
I’m sorry I was only twenty-something, with compassion, yes, but with compassion more limited than it could have been. I didn’t fully see then what I do now. Luke could have dropped the class and taken the textbook home, told himself he’d spend a little time studying it on his own, and switched to video games each time the words became taxing. Instead, he stayed in the class and changed to audit status, and though he was always behind, he participated as best he could, doing the assignments, playing the class word games, and turning in his daily, always-less-than-half-finished tests long after everyone else was done.
I wonder why we, as humans, chase after the knowledge of things that are so difficult to comprehend. Why differential equations, orchestral compositions, quantum mechanics, or Kantian metaphysics? Even more, why do we seek knowledge of a God whose mind transcends our own, the author of a curriculum so massive in content, a test creator whose questions our small lettering and careful scratchings will never begin to answer?
Why do we chase after knowledge of a God so other, so without beginning or end?
Almost three years ago, I started a degree in theology. “What do you do for a living?” someone will ask me, and I’ll mumble something about leaving my career in education to pursue this degree and wait to see if the person will need clarification. Sometimes, I get polite nods. Sometimes, I get looks of smothered disapproval. Once, a sweet and well-meaning medical technician, who weaved the phrases “Praise God,” and “Praise Jesus” into more sentences than not, asked me the question. “I’m working on a master’s in theology,” I said, thinking I’d at least secure approval from her. She smiled and nodded, grew quiet for a moment, and then confessed she had no idea what theology was.
That etymology textbook I had once taught from introduced both Greek roots used in the word theology: Theo means God, and log means, among other things, study of. I explained this, and her smile returned, along with another “Praise God.”
Perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned in my theological studies is akin to what I imagine a young child beginning to study astronomy would feel after starting with the earth’s sun and moon only to discover our planet’s location within a galaxy that may well be one of billions.
Where does the study of a galactical infinity take you? In a similar way, theology teaches you much, but at some point, you have to look up from your thousand-page systematics text and realize you are pursuing knowledge of the boundless Creator of that galactical infinity.
You can’t get through seminary without somehow running into Augustine; at least, I hope you can’t. Though I must confess about Confessions: I read it in my first semester of seminary and wondered, as I read those first few pages, if I’d been misled. Those initial pages seemed a blathering of thoughts with verses interwoven for good measure. But then I kept reading until I wasn’t underwhelmed anymore, and I got it, it seemed, got why a man’s quest for God could traverse the centuries, could seep into all the deep, soft places of a person’s being who ached for knowledge, who ached to find meaning. It spoke to my own three a.m. questions with words I could understand.
Augustine writes about his desire for God in the opening of Confessions, explaining that his desire for God came from God himself. “You made us for yourself,” he acknowledges, and later observes that God “called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.” While Augustine couldn’t fully embrace that call for years, neither could he let it go. His search for God became long and circuitous: he writes openly, for instance, about struggling with sex, about sinning simply for the pleasure of sin itself, about pursuing academic success solely for prideful reasons, and about the many years of wrestling with philosophy and theology that left him adrift, adding questions and subtracting answers. For years God allowed Augustine to “go on turning over and over in that darkness,” distracted by the “lovely created things” of this world even as he searched for the one who created them. Augustine’s cry in describing his lost years echoes the experiences of many: “Where was I when I was seeking for you? You were there before me, but I had departed from myself. I could not even find myself, much less you.”
However, the God he was reaching for was, as he’d acknowledged, there before him, and slowly, Augustine later saw, he was “drawing closer.” His eventual conversion, after a chanting voice told him to start reading the Bible before him, eliminated his doubts. From this point on, his life was spent in service to God. That service included writing a magnitude of works about the study of God that lives on, over 1,600 years later, works that have led so many of us to a deeper understanding of the God Augustine once thought was eluding him.
Last week, I graduated from seminary, and this week, I find myself looking for two things: career options and, interestingly, other seminary degrees.
The simple truth is, I’m not ready for seminary to be over. I can continue to study God in other ways besides seminary, of course, and I will. But this God, who is at the core of who I am, who has spoken to me so beautifully amid even the driest words of theology ever to be written, continues to call to me through this kind of study. And so, the more I know, the more I hunger to know more, more of the God I’ve loved my whole life, since the moment I first knew of him.
He created me not just with a sense of him, but also with a love for him that grows the more I know him. I started seminary in part because I felt a vocational call, but as I sat in my classes, something began to be fed deep within me, something that somehow satisfies even as it creates a desire for more. I see everywhere how all things begin and end with the God who spoke the world into existence, who took on flesh to save that world, and who is, even now, making that world new. I see his beauty everywhere, in his hovering over pre-creation waters and Israel’s firstborn sons, in his exilic promise to make stone hearts flesh, in his post-resurrection bread breaking that opened blind eyes. How could I not hunger, seeing all this that I see? And so I hunger for more glimpses of him, for the panoramic view of what I now see only in part. Even as I lean in deeper, I know that it will never be deep enough, but I dive anyway, because I hunger for more.
I pray that God will continue to reveal himself, in all kinds of ways, for all the days that remain for me, even if it is only in the half-shadows my finite mind can comprehend.
Sometimes, I imagine Luke, long into adulthood now. I hope he continues to study words, with each bit of knowledge gained leading to the desire for another, and another, and another bit of the same. I hope the same will be true for myself years from now. I pray that whatever comes after the diploma, it will bring knowledge that feeds my adoration. I pray that God will spread glimpses of his presence across the galaxies of words and stories and his own creation, and that when I look up, I will see more of what I long to see: God there luminous before me.
Christine Dykstra works as a freelance writer and editor. She recently completed an M.A. in theological studies. Previously, she was a literacy specialist and an English teacher.
By Bonita Jewel
The rocks and hills and trees, the rivers, lakes,
and we caught now in abeyance, in this long
and lonely dance awaiting
some revealing, some long and lasting healing,
spreading and standing as home to all things
nesting in its branches,
our expectancy unspoken, hope unbroken in spite
clay all around, in spite of the sound of weeping
in the streets, we meet this all with tears
with hope as we grope and wait for the appearance
of the Master, the alpha
and omega, who writes our story, who walked these
roads and wept
our tears and yet now reigns in lasting glory.
Bonita Jewel visited India when she was 16 and stayed for nearly 12 years. Now residing in California with her husband and three children, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing. A freelance writer and editor for 13 years, Bonita’s writing has recently been published with upstreet magazine, Ekstasis and Dos Gatos Press. You can connect with her at bonitajewel.com.
Bonita's other work on Foreshadow:
Heart to Heart (Poetry, September 2023)
Key to Faith (Poetry, October 2023)
By Laurie Klein
It is God’s kiss, gentle
Of course, we must all
unravel, as we gravely
mouth the verbs of change,
until ego resists no more
than a garment,
sloughed. May our souls,
shoring up gaps,
as if we can somehow
repair one blessèd thing:
these closet selves, no more
substantial than April air
crocheted into a shawl,
only need to be shouldered,
held again to the breastbone.
Laurie Klein is the author of Where the Sky Opens and Bodies of Water, Bodies of Flesh. A grateful recipient of the Thomas Merton Prize for Poetry of the Sacred, she lives in the Pacific Northwest and blogs, monthly, at lauriekleinscribe.com.
Laurie's other work on Foreshadow:
Private, as the Small of a Back (Poetry, October 2023)
Predawn (Poetry, October 2023)
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Composer Scott Stevens speaks with Jarel about his time working in the UK and now returning to the US and what he has learned spiritually about his work and faith. This includes his sources of strength and nourishment, such as being in nature, listening to the preaching and teaching of theologians and being involved in a Bible study.
Scott Stevens is a composer. You can find his website here and his Linktree here.
Jarel Paguio is a co-host of Forecast.
Scott's other work on Foreshadow:
Dawn Will Prevail (Music, December 2020)
Perspective (Music, January 2021)
Listening Inwardly (Interview, April 2021)
The Strength of Gentleness (Interview, July 2021)
Depths (Music, August 2021)
Walking on Water: Madeleine L'Engle and Vocation (Interview, September 2022)
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Matt Chesney speaks with Will about his journey seeking wholeness after asking tough questions about how his church community treated his family growing up and about his experiences in the military. Building on those experiences, Matt has learned to move beyond cynicism to find a sense of purpose in the Christian understanding of servant leadership, using his strength to serve the people in his life.
Matt Chesney is a U.S. veteran.
Will Shine is a co-host of Forecast.
Editor's note: The views expressed on this Forecast, and all Forecasts, represent those of our guests and not necessarily those of the editors and co-hosts of Foreshadow. While we may not agree with everything our guests share, we believe it valuable to listen to and engage with their experiences.
By Miriam Riad
I almost feel a little relieved.
I am lost, and I must
The excuse I’ve been hoping for
To take my time.
Oh well, it feels like,
I am going to be late, anyway.
Why the rush?
I try to retrace
That led me here.
My compass has broken,
And it is a mystery.
Life can be dizzying.
My unknowing echoes loudly
As it strikes every wall
Of this maze.
There are a million ways out
And, at the same time,
I have craved permission
To be lost, like a child
In need of a nap.
To not be on my way! somewhere,
To not be in a hurry,
Where there is nothing to do
Except be where I am
Get my bearings,
Feel these feet
On the firmness of the earth,
And remember what is real.
Maybe the compass
But led me here
Where I must be still
A good day’s work
Is sitting where you are
And finding what is
The glimmer hidden
Inside the rough rocks,
In this strange place
Where you never
Meant to be.
Miriam Riad is a public school teacher, writer and former book editor. Her work has appeared in Ekstasis Magazine, Ruminate Magazine and elsewhere. She is the author of 28 by 29: A Year of Writing, a short collection of essays and poetry.
Miriam's other work on Foreshadow:
Distance (Poetry, March 2023)
By Jack Stewart
. . . it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a
needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
A scholar now says the word might be
the Hebrew for rope, which would make
more sense, but who wants a logical
metaphor, since faith makes little sense,
God is not visible, and from a distance
the outline of a camel’s hump
almost looks like crimped thread, which,
any seamstress will tell you,
is difficult to get through a needle
and is not usable for embroidery,
impossible to pull smooth into flowers,
and who would want the accurate
color of the cross on a christening gown?
I prefer a camel, a beast who can
go weeks without water, emblem of sacrifice,
who might be able to fold his front knees
like in prayer and bend his hump under,
then raise his head, lower his haunches,
and slide through. Any rider
who wanted to succeed would have
to dismount and copy that obeisance,
curve his back and touch
his forehead to the ground, kiss
the footprints of an animal
that denies itself by nature.
He would have to strip himself naked
and feel the hot metal of the eye
burn his sides as he tried to fit. If
he made it to the other side, he would
see glory is a different kind of brightness
and requires you give up even more,
the camel now just a speck in the distance,
plodding toward the horizon.
Jack Stewart was educated at the University of Alabama and Emory University and was a Brittain Fellow at The Georgia Institute of Technology. His first book, No Reason, was published by the Poeima Poetry Series in 2020, and his work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The American Literary Review, Nimrod, Image and others.
Jack's other work on Foreshadow:
The Return (Poetry, September 2023)
By Rick Hartwell
I see, on a page of poetry by Thomas Merton, the line “My sweet brother.” What I read and process instead is the line, “My street brother.” It sticks in my mind and becomes mixed with the scenes and people on a certain street in San Bernardino, California. I travel this route twice daily, and I see many of the so-called street people. And yes, they are my brothers and sisters; perhaps not by blood or birth, but by the shared humanity we must all have in common.
There are the dealers: drugs, sex, hot items of all kinds, religions, cultures, and philosophies possible. There are the users: drugs, sex, hot items of all kinds, religions, cultures, and philosophies available. And there are the refusers: drugs, sex, etc. One quickly memorizes the picture. But there are unique individuals growing through the cracks of the asphalt and concrete.
I noticed one morning the typical gang-banger walking down the sidewalk with his friend. The pants were slung low; the oversized, blazing white tee shirt was covered by the long-sleeved, flannel shirt buttoned only at the collar. He wore a thin strip of bandana around his head and across his forehead. His hair was oiled back and pulled taut into a short ponytail. He swaggered and loped from side to side down the sidewalk in unison with his similarly dressed friend.
Suddenly he turned and ran diagonally across the street, back toward what I presume is his home. He had heard a cry, or someone had yelled to him, or he had merely felt the impending loss of something that mattered to him. In any event, he dashed back across the street and scooped up the tiniest of kittens from the sidewalk. He strode purposefully back through the open gate to deliver the kitten safely back into the house and off the street -- my street brother.
I noticed one morning the newspaper vendors selling the local newspaper, The Sun, for a quarter from the corners where there are traffic signals. They make only pennies each sale, and yet they cooperate, sharing the same intersection, ducking and dodging the traffic like ricocheting pool balls bouncing from sale to sale.
There is one who stops and pauses and then dashes for the rear of a pickup truck momentarily stopped at a red light. Some might be inclined to think he intends to grab the ladder protruding from the opened camper shell, or to grab one of the available gallons of paint sitting on the bed just back from the open tailgate. He doesn’t. All he wants to do is retrieve a loose rope trailing behind the truck, unwound somehow from holding down the ladder, and stuff it back into the center of the pickup. He doesn’t even await a “thanks” or even try to sell a paper to the driver that might easily have been his natural due. He turns and dashes back across the street, dodging the starting traffic, to resume his calling -- my street brother.
In Christianity there is an ill-practiced theory of treating every stranger as if he were the Christ. I understand that myriad other religions also respect the inherent value of each person. From my perspective, of limited travel and views and streets, I try to see my street brothers and sisters for who they are and what they do beneath the stereotypes and societal labels. I try to carry their small kindnesses forward. I try to live the life I see on the streets.
Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California with his wife of 47 years, Sally (upon whom he is emotionally, physically and spiritually dependent), two grown children, a daughter-in-law, two granddaughters and 16 cats! Don’t ask. Like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, he believes that the instant contains eternity.
By Scot Martin
What is the meaning of a toad? Yes, an ordinary, overlooked-by-most-humans bufo: the American Eastern toad.
Small and squat, thick-browed, warty devourer of worms and crickets. How can you be anything but an icon of humility?
You lack the athletic power of a jumping frog; designed to hop through leaf litter in gardens and forest floors.
Perhaps you have something to teach us?
Abbot Vorobiev proclaimed humility as the secret to great spiritual growth. For it is not solely in feats of prayer and fasting, or even swimming in the Word, but in plain quotidian humility that metamorphosis occurs.
Your white belly that never sees the sun, but continually kisses the humus. Your unassuming clandestineness among the sticks and stones declares that the small, overlooked, and the weak matter.
You belong not in the thrall of witches, of the domain of the creepy-crawly, but in the Kingdom of Heaven; Jesus created you and your kin, after all.
So trill in the moist, spring air. Let your song rise as an Ave to “toad love” and the Glory shining within everything.
Scot F. Martin lives with his family and teaches high school English in the Rouge River watershed in southeast Michigan. He has been published in Jesus the Imagination, Front Porch Republic, Stand, Ignatian Solidarity Network, Flourish and other analog and digital publications.
By E R Skulmoski
E R Skulmoski is a poet who lives in the interior of British Columbia with her husband and four children. She homeschools her children and writes poetry and short stories in her spare time. You can follow her on Instagram @emily_skulmoski and read more of her work at https://ofisandwas.substack.com/.