Posts by Georgina Bartlett

'Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.'

I've remarked in previous posts how much I love Christmas; though it is nowhere near Christmastime, I was reminded today of some words from one of my favourite Christmas hymns, 'O Holy Night' by Adolph Adam (English version by John Sullivan Wright). I've always been touched by the second half of the first verse (printed above), in which the writer notes how the world 'lay(s) in sin and error pining', waiting for the breaking of hope in Christ.

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish clergyman and writer who profoundly influenced the fiction and non-fiction works of C.S. Lewis. One of Lewis’s lesser-known publications is an edited collection of MacDonald’s writings: the book can be hard to find in print now, but a dear friend gifted my a copy of it two years ago, offering me a valuable 'guided tour' of MacDonald's profound, if at times abstruse, writings on life and faith.

One of my favourite quotes from MacDonald is included in Lewis's collection under the title ‘The Wrong Way with Anxiety’: this particular passage has frequently proven helpful to me, as I have often struggled with anxiety. But in a time of national crisis, I thought it might be more generally relevant. It goes as follows:

For the early academic, the rallying cry is ‘publish or die’! In an over-saturated job market, we are trained to focus on publication, believing—because we are more or less told—that we are only as good as our publishing record.

I have long dreaded the publication process. The stakes seem so high and I’ve been resentful of how the pressure to publish shifts my focus from my research topic itself to how I can market is successfully. I know that publishing is a ‘necessary evil’ in academia, but I also know it as a hollow and demoralising process.

Finishing a doctorate is glorious and wonderfully freeing (see previous post). But it's amazing how quickly reality sets in after a brief moment of victory. One set of goals is replaced by another and the challenge of navigating along the unmarked, foggy road of a DPhil is followed by the equally challenging task of locating the next road to take. I am a newbie to the post-viva life and very far from mastering it, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts I’ve had as I get used to this new part of the postgraduate journey. I’d welcome hearing the advice and experience of others who’ve walked this road!

One of my favourite pieces of Christmas music is ‘For unto us a Child is born’ from Georg Friderich Händel’s Messiah. I have loved it since I was a child, touched by its bouncing joy and the intricacy of its polyphonic choral writing, with lines appearing and disappearing like needles through the musical fabric, aligning with each other for a few ‘stitches in time’ before one vanishes to reappear a moment later in a different hue. As a music historian, I am enchanted by the majesty of Händel’s choral setting, but its glorious lyrics are what I love most. The piece is a setting of Isaiah 9:6—one of my favourite Bible verses:

In the next few weeks, I am hoping to submit my thesis. I'm not at the summit of my academic career (at least, I hope I'm not!) but I am approaching a significant waypoint that I've been working towards for three years. I don't really know what I expected to feel as I approached the final incline: victory, perhaps? I certainly don't feel that. I do feel wondrous awe and gratitude, though: at this natural pausing place in my academic (and life) journey, God has pulled me aside, turned me around, and shown me where I am and where I've come. It's a beautiful view.

It's vacation season once more and everyone seems to be posting pictures of themselves lounging by the river, sipping G&Ts. No better time, then, to consider the role of rest in our work. Academia seems to offer lots of ‘time off’: Easter breaks, Christmas breaks, and summer breaks can dwarf the terms they punctuate. But we all know that breaks are not really breaks for researchers. When undergrads are away, academics rejoice: now we can really start getting some work done!

I met with some academic colleagues recently over a meal. It was a lovely group of people but I came away depressed...everyone has done so much. Comparing my meager achievements with what everyone else had accomplished, I felt like my resume was as watertight as a chocolate teapot.

My doctorate flashed before my eyes and I searched desperately for time misspent. How could I have been more effective? When should I have written that monograph and book proposal, along with mastering my second, third, fourth, and fifth languages? And then I asked myself: if I was so far behind everybody else already, was academia even going to be an option for me in the future? The task seemed impossible.

As academics, we don’t like looking foolish. We are trained to provide evidence for assertions, and refrain from making them if we can’t provide justification for what we think and believe. But as I have been working through 1 Corinthians over the past few months, I have been convicted and encouraged by Paul’s call to ‘foolishness’.

I am a confirmed lover of Christmas. I love fairy lights and frost on the ground, poinsettias and Christmas ornaments, baking and decorating the tree. I love all the frills. Even though none of these things are particularly ‘commercial’, I’ll admit that none of them are necessarily about celebrating Jesus, either! And it seems I’m not alone among Christians: though we get to celebrate Christ’s presence with us every day of the year, it’s hard to deny that there’s something ‘magical’ about this season. But what is it about Christmas that holds us in thrall, even those to whom it offers no real hope? Have we all just succumbed to the opiate of sentimentalism and commercialism?

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