The Spring

The Spring a Poem by Larry Farlow

Beside the hundred year old Oak
a clear spring flows
from ‘neath the earth up to the ground above.

In ages past a traveler found
this lively spring
and built a shelter there for those to come.

As years went on tired travelers used
this peaceful spring
to ease their burdens as they traveled on.

Weary bodies of man and beast
returned to life
by cool clear waters shaded ‘neath the oak.

In time some men came dressed alike
to water there
their horses and replenish their supply.

They’d traveled days to make it to
this shady spot
yet must not stay but move on to the line.

Grey ranks move out and prayers are said
beside the spring
for wives and children peacefully at home.

As hours move on faint rumblings come
back to the spring
drifting along with smoke across the miles.

The line they’d reached had failed to hold.
To shaded spring
they fled headlong pursued by lead and fear.

Weary bodies of man and beast,
clinging to life
come to the shady waters once again.

Beside the hundred year old Oak
a red spring flows
from men whose lives flow out into the earth.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with using poetry to tell a story, not just evoke a feeling. This is one of my first attempts. Feel free to let me know what you think, provide constructive criticism, etc.

How to Learn A Foreign Language Using Your Kindle

How To Learn a Foreign Language Using Your Kindle

I recently decided to improve my reading skills in German. I studied German for two years in High School and another year in college but have never taken the time to become well versed in the language. Since lot’s of studies show that learning a second language is great for your brain, I figured this would be a good way to give my ageing mind some exercise. Besides, I just think it would be cool to be able to pursue my passion for reading beyond the boundaries of the English language.

The idea came to me when I discovered the German language version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen) available free in the Kindle owner’s lending library. Given that this first installment of the Harry Potter series was written on a fifth and sixth grade level, I figured it would be a good test of my ability to read in German. However, what I discovered next, was even more helpful.

If you have a Kindle, you know that you can have the device provide a definition of a word by placing the cursor just to the left of the word. The definition then appears at the top or bottom of the screen. However, did you know you can change which dictionary the Kindle uses as a reference, even choosing a foreign language dictionary?

I purchased the German – English Dictionary by Daniel Eichhorn and downloaded it to my Kindle. I then made that my default dictionary. Now, when reading in German, words I don’t understand can be translated on the fly. This has proven enormously helpful. Reading is not just recognizing the individual words on the page but interacting with the words as they flow from sentences to paragraphs to chapters. It’s virtually impossible to get into the flow of a book if you have to stop every few seconds to consult another book to find the meaning of a word.

At first I was looking up multiple words per sentence, but now I’m having to look up fewer and fewer words as I read. Once you’ve placed the cursor on “Zauberer” a couple of times and see that it means “wizard”, you begin to remember that and just read right through it from then on. I sometimes now read an entire page or more before having to translate a word. That doesn’t mean I’m getting 100% of the words, just that I’m getting the gist of the meaning, enough to follow the story. Of course it also helps that I have a general idea of the story line ahead of time. Having three kids all of whom devoured the Potter books and saw all the  movies, I kind of know what’s coming next in most chapters.

Currently I’m about 35% through the book after a little over a week. A much slower pace than if I were reading in English but much better than I would have thought when I began this experiment. Once I’m finished with Harry Potter, I plan to try a book I’m not as familiar with to see how I do with that. Who knows, I may even expand to other languages eventually.

What about you? Have you leveraged your Kindle as language learning tool?

October by Robert Frost

Enjoy on this fine October day!

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

October by Robert Frost

The Rule of St. Benedict by Benedict of Nursia

St. Benedict of Nursia writing the Benedictine...
St. Benedict of Nursia writing the Benedictine rule, portrait in the church of Heiligenkreuz Abbey near Baden bei Wien, Lower Austria. Portrait (1926) by Herman Nieg (1849-1928) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though it sheds light on how monasteries functioned in the Middle Ages, The Rule of St. Benedict sheds even more light on the theology behind the monastic movement. Benedict of Nursia wrote his rule around the year 530, hundreds of years before the Reformation. Yet the seeds of a works-based theology seem already to have been firmly planted.

Consider this from the prologue:

“For we ought at all times so to serve Him with the good things which He hath given us, that He may not, like an angry father, disinherit his children, nor, like a dread lord, enraged at our evil deeds, hand us over to everlasting punishment as most wicked servants, who would not follow Him to glory.”

In other words, our salvation is not secure and God, like an angry father, may snatch it away from us at any moment and send us to hell, depending on our behavior. Sadly, assurance of salvation is a foreign concept to Benedict.

His view of justification is problematic as well. Throughout the work, it is evident Benedict believes our justification before God depends upon our ability to follow the rules, primarily of course the Benedictine rules:

“If we desire to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we cannot reach it in any way, unless we run thither by good works.”

This is the very thing against which Martin Luther so strenuously fought many centuries later. To make matters worse, the works prescribed here are not even those things to which the Bible calls believers. Benedict seems primarily interested in external compliance as exhibited by certain types of asceticism:

“The vice of personal ownership must by all means be cut out in the monastery by the very root, so that no one may presume to give or receive anything without the command of the Abbot; nor to have anything whatever as his own, neither a book, nor a writing tablet, nor a pen, nor anything else whatsoever, since monks are allowed to have neither their bodies nor their wills in their own power.”

This is more akin to the false religion of the Pharisees with their multiple man-made rules than to the Christian concept of salvation by grace through faith. It also stands in direct opposition to scriptures such as Colossian 2:21-23

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

As Martin Luther realized hundreds of years later, no amount of asceticism or self-flagellation can make us holy. Only the grace of God through Jesus Christ can do that.

There are other issues too such as his belief that the abbot stands in the place of Christ in the lives of the monks and the frequent violence done to scripture by removal from context and misapplication.

Whether I recommend this book depends upon the goal of the reader. It’s an excellent book to read if you’re looking to gain an historical perspective on medieval monastic life but if you’re looking for a treatise on living the Christian life – look elsewhere.