31 July 2010

I heard the bell ringing

I heard the bell ringing - an invitation to come to chapel. And so I went.

Certainly there was a slight pause while deciding if I would answer. I don't expect to hear the bell on a Friday night; with many people on vacation, there are few people around who would hear the bell. And not expecting the bell, I hadn't planned on going - the plan was instead to finish a book.

But after hearing the bell, the decision was fairly simple. I could come to chapel, so why wouldn't I? It would remind me again to turn my heart to God and to attune myself to His presence. And I had no idea if chapel would simply be a series of songs and quiet prayer and a Bible reading; or whether in the midst of that I'd be more aware of God's presence in my life and what He'd have for me.

And I went. And in so doing I was reminded of why I came - and I remembered why I'd continue to go - for the simple reminder of turning my heart towards God, something I hope to do in my whole life but made easier by the regular chapel times and constant reminder to come and join in prayer.

update aug 2010: An article in the most recent letter from St. Gregory's Abbey also focuses on the value of the bell in calling one to prayer and recognizing the gift of being reminded of how one's time is for God. It can be downloaded from their Archive (current issue: or nr 242 once a new issue comes out).

19 July 2010

No more vacation for me, thanks...

As many people in the Netherlands take a vacation during the summer, I have been frequently asked where I'll be going on vacation this summer. And my answer? Nowhere - I've had it with taking vacation! Most people seem quite puzzled by my answer. When I explain that I've already had 3.5 weeks of vacation this year (first to Turkey and then to Canada), it's easy to interpret my answer as saying that I've already had all my vacation for this year. But that's not really it - even if I could take more vacation, I have no desire to (I get the impression this is odd to most people).

Perhaps it is simply the fact that since Christmas I have been a total of at least 10 weeks away from Amsterdam (more than half of the time was work-related).

Perhaps it's simply my personality - that I'm somebody who is perfectly
happy to stay home and read.

Perhaps it's because of my childhood - although we went camping when I was growing up - it was only for long weekends. School holidays were simply a change of pace - and usually a shift to other kind of work. So I'm not used to this whole going on long vacations thing.

Or perhaps it's because of my insistence on not working on Sunday (something else inherited from my childhood). And having a 'not have to' day (and no guilt!) once a week is like having a mini-vacation every week :)

And it's likely due to the fact that I generally like my life as it is - I get to study and think and I am part of a community that has rhythms and structures that provide stability and peace for my life. And even if I do not always appreciate all of those things when I am in Amsterdam, when I am gone and/or on vacation, I miss those things the most - and my life feels incomplete, even in the midst of the joy and wonders that vacations can and do bring.

04 July 2010

Intellectually flabby

If you don't exercise enough, you get out-of-shape (flabby, in slang). I feel a bit like that's been happening with me intellectually. It's not that I do nothing; it's just that I don't have all that many deadlines, and I've spent a lot of time in the last while away from my own research. I have been thinking, but it's been about other things.

I've noticed that I've gotten lazy; as well, I'm super easily distracted and content to do little for longer periods of time. The following description that I found on Alan Jacobs's blog, text patterns, resonates with me:

these days

Tom Bisell, from his book Extra Lives, an extended defense of the art of the video game and the value of spending large chunks of your life playing them:

Once upon a time, I wrote in the morning, jogged in the late afternoon, and spent most of my evenings reading. Once upon a time, I wrote off as unproductive those days in which I had managed to put down “only” a thousand words. Once upon a time, I played video games almost exclusively with friends. Once upon a time, I did occasionally binge on games, but these binges rarely had less than fortnight between them. Once upon a time, I was, more or less, content.

“Once upon a time” refers to relatively recent years (2001-2006) during which I wrote several books and published more than fifty pieces of magazine journalism and criticism — a total output of, give or take, 4,500 manuscript pages. I rarely felt very disciplined during this half decade, though I realize this admission invites accusations of disingenuousness or, failing that, a savage and justified beating. Obviously, I was disciplined. These days, however, I am lucky if I finish reading one book every fortnight. These days, I have read from start to finish exactly two works of fiction — excepting those I was not also reviewing — in the last year. These days, I play video games in the morning, play video games in the afternoon, and spend my evenings playing video games. These days, I still manage to write, but the times I am able to do so for more than three sustained hours have the temporal periodicity of comets with near-Earth trajectories.