All is Gift, and Glorious

Hola Amigos, This past semester I had the privilege of teaching in Santiago, Chile. Along with my lovely wife Laura and our boys were eighteen bright, fun, intelligent, hospitable students (All young women; apparently college boys tend to be stupid in not availing themselves of such opportunities.)

I shall post various things here and there, as opportunity allows. Here’s a reflection written on fifteen years of university teaching, while in Chile.

Peace be unto thee, LCC

All is Gift, and Glorious

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page,” or so says Saint Augustine. And when I think, looking back on fifteen years of teaching at Lipscomb University, of the many “world-books” my wife Laura and I along with our sons have been allowed to read, I am filled with deep gratitude: wandering the streets of Old Jerusalem for weeks, in and out of the hidden depths of an ancient city still filled with markets and butcheries and vendors, Hasidic Jews and Orthodox priests and Arab Muslim barbers; pulling teeth in our makeshift dental clinics in the wilds of Guatemalan jungles; exploring the never-ending riches of London with eight students in the summer of 2005, and then scurrying in anxiety to make sure they were all safe when the Tube was bombed the last Thursday of our sojourn there that summer; navigating the other-worldly sounds and smells and sights of Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque dominating the skyline; shepherding incoming freshmen, along with the Lowrys and Scobeys, through England and Scotland, reflecting upon the long Christian tradition from which we all have been nourished.

And now finishing up this fifteenth year of teaching at Lipscomb, I find myself in a most delightful “world book” with eighteen most outstanding students perched at the bottom of the world: in Chile, a land over two thousand six hundred miles long, averaging somewhere around one hundred twenty five miles wide, the Pacific Ocean running the full length of its western border and the Andes Mountains running the full length of the east, the south running to Patagonia and the Strait of Magellan and on to the sea and thence to Antarctica.

If Chile is a book, it is a thrilling one, full of the pathos of indigenous peoples exterminated by the Spanish, the Spanish colonialists rising up to throw off the cloak of the Spanish Royalists, and the not-so-Cold-War conflict between communists and capitalists. The people are warm, and yet many still apparently suffer extensive post-traumatic stress disorder from the years of the Pinochet dictatorship, his ruthless years a classic case study in the ways capitalism and democracy often fail to be good bed-fellows. The geography is diverse, from the driest desert in the world, the Atacama in the north, to the glaciers and rain of Patagonia in the south, with the rolling central valley full of vineyards and lakes and the rambling, eclectic world-class city of Santiago, the snow-capped Andes always within sight.

There is, indeed, something about reading a “world-book” that is more immediately compelling than a text read in a class-room: one does not simply let mere words run across one’s consciousness and then out of one’s memory; here one sees, encounters, tastes, feels. Here we see the forts and hand-crafts and linens of the Incans, a once-mighty empire long vanquished by the Spaniards; here we encounter the reality of our own cultural conceits, realizing that our own land good, but many others are too; here we taste llama and empanada and shellfish cooked over hot rocks buried in the ground of Chiloe Island; here we feel—or at least we seek to practice empathy—with those who have been “disappeared” by principalities and powers turned demonic, with words about security, and justice, and love of country, perverted for the ends of torture and oppression.

And here we feel the exhaustion of hiking more miles than we thought we could up Frenchman’s Valley in the wilds of Patagonia, perched at the very end of the world; here we taste the parched lips from sand-boarding on the dunes in the Atacama’s Death Valley; here we encounter a hospitality and a kindness of an old farmer and his wife who welcomed us to their table, spread with more victuals than we could ever consume in one setting, and our students singing a parting song of Spanish blessing; here we see vistas and peaks and valleys, old churches and skyscrapers, gauchos on donkeys under chupallas and ponchos.

And if good books should leave one with some sense of gratitude about the wonder of life, then this “world book” has been indeed a good book. So I sat in the lounge of the old resort lodge in Patagonia our first night in Torres Del Paine park, and reflected thus: that all is gift, and glorious.

First published on Lipscomb.Edu;  more photos on Flickr here.