I once spent a sun-drenched series of days on the island of Corfu, an idyll mythically associated with Scheria, land of Homer’s fabulously wealthy Phaeacians. Beyond gazing upon rock formations identified with that ill-fortuned ship petrified by Poseidon, the visit introduced me to the work of Lawrence Durrell, one of the 20th century’s underappreciated authors.
Of him, George Steiner notes, “Touch by touch, Durrell builds his array of sensuous, rare expressions into patterns of imagery and idea so subtle and convoluted that the experience of reading becomes one of total sensual apprehension. No one else writing in English today has a comparable command of the light and music of language.”
The Dark Labyrinth
, part of my pandemic-season reading, largely rises to Steiner’s high standard. Set not on Corfu, but on Crete, its haunting penultimate chapter is “The Roof of the World.” There, Durrell has an unremarkable Cockney couple, the Trumans, emerge from a collapsing subterranean labyrinth into an eerie earthly paradise. Having feared death, they rediscover life. Having suffered chthonic despair, the blue Aegean sky lifts their hopes. “No extravagance of gesture or exclamation could do justice” to the beauty of the Roof of the World. In the labyrinth they lacked everything essential; now, they find Arcadian abundance spilt out—cool streams, grazing sheep, and heavy-laden olive and walnut trees.
The remarkable thing about their almost-Eden is that, for all its loveliness, the Trumans are discontent. Theirs is an immanentized paradise of sharp limits. They learn from the only other inhabitant, Mrs. Adams, that there is no passage from their aerie abode up to overtowering mountains or down to the sea where community and commerce might be had. The simplest of their natural needs are satisfied, yet neither knowing what remains to be desired nor how to name it, the Trumans wonder if the Roof of the World is the best life offers. They utter no words of prayer to God, though they sometimes move their lips silently in speech to themselves.
It occurs to me that the paradise Dante finds in Purgatorio
28 is an ideal in relation to which the Roof of the World falls woefully short. Dante doesn’t stumble unprepared from darkness into a brilliant Eden; rather, having through penitence and discipline become holy and wise, he enters the garden fit by Christ’s grace for a vision of God. He scans what lies below, but attends to what lies before and especially above. No longer hindered by sin or ordinary limits, he is “free, upright, and whole,” able to participate in a transcendent divine life that elevates and enlarges his very being. Dante is not bereft of community, but surrounded by an ever-growing company of saints who rejoice in the inexhaustible love of the triune God. He prays—constantly.
In fact, the very notion of a Cretan paradise is, after all, rather absurd. But leave aside that Crete is hot and dry, or Cretans’ reputation for coarseness. The Dark Labyrinth
reminds us that any mere earthly paradise disappoints.
Remembering this truth helps us regard our problems—disease, strained political life, injustice, fear, racial discord, social unrest—in a hopeful light. We study, teach, mentor, and work for no faux-paradise shut in by a roof, but for a peaceable kingdom heralded by the prophets and inaugurated by Christ. “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” The kingdom of God is among us, yet it is not of our making and always exceeds us. For this we may and should give thanks.
Here are other matters of note within our community:
• Next month’s Move-In Day schedule offers students various self-service and assisted move-in days/times. Year after year, we have shown great hospitality as volunteers for move-in at the HRC and Brooks Residential College. Although this year’s schedule is different, I hope our welcome for new students remains as always. Volunteer opportunities for Move2BU
blocks are available here
. Each person must register individually because of the need to “sign” a waiver. Please note in the comments section your desire to serve the HRC or Brooks College. HRC faculty steward Jason Whitt
will follow up soon with particular needs.
• Career Center data show that our 230 most recent HC graduates garnered employment or graduate/professional school admission at an 80% success rate less than two months after graduation. Among other findings, half of HC graduates completed internships; compared to those without internships, they achieved a 16% greater success rate and accepted career opportunities at a 52% higher average salary. Our students land formative internships through attentive advising and generous mentoring. Thank you!
• Congratulations to the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core for receiving Waco ISD’s Golden Apple Award for academic enrichment in secondary education. The award recognizes the efforts of nearly a hundred students who have befriended and supported WISD students in recent years. Drawn from Social World I and II under the coordination of Paul Carron
and Chuck McDaniel
, BIC’s students join many others in the HC community whose community leadership and service deserve encouragement and praise.
• Tenured faculty will receive by email a revised tenure standards document for review. Revision work has been led by a committee comprised of Elizabeth Corey
, Phillip Donnelly
, and Anne-Marie Schultz
. Last December, faculty offered feedback on a draft document. With subsequent changes, I’m pleased with the proposal’s clarity of style and substance, responsiveness to faculty and University priorities, and reflection of our commitments as Christian scholar-teachers. Be on the lookout for further information.
• A cross-divisional collaboration between Baylor Libraries and the Academy for Teaching and Learning has resulted in a new website designed to help faculty and students excel in teaching and learning: Learning Together
. With extensive resources to support course design across different modes (face-to-face, hybrid, online), and with guided reflection questions and practical advice about instructional aims and strategies, the website deserves wide notice and use. Thanks to newly arrived Dean of Libraries Jeffry Archer
and ATL director Lenore Wright
for developing this timely resource for us.
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry | Dean
| Baylor University