On Friday, January 3, 2020, I present a paper at the annual meeting of the Society of Classical Studies (program here). The paper is entitled, “Gregory of Nazianzus and Apollinaris of Laodicea: Callimachean Polemic in the 4th c. CE.” Relevant links:
If you wish to carry out your prayer, you need God, who “gives prayer to the one praying.” So persist in calling out to him, saying “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come.” His “name” is the Holy Spirit and his kingdom is the only begotten Son. After all, this is what he taught when he said the Father was worshipped “in Spirit and in Truth.”
The one who prays “in spirit and in truth” no longer extols the creator for created things, but sings his praise for his very self.
It is not necessarily the case that the mind has obtained the place of prayer once it no longer is among thoughts of day to day life. After all, it can be in contemplation of these day-to-day doings and spend its time among the explanations for these events. Even though they are just words, because these contemplations are directed at daily matters they shape and fashion the mind and lead it far away from God.
Even when the mind has moved beyond contemplation of bodily existence, it has not yet beheld the place of God’s perfection. For it may become enamored and divided with knowledge of the intellectual principles of things.
The one who has obtained freedom from compulsion does not necessarily pray in a true manner. After all, one can be entirely within one’s thoughts but distracted by the narratives they generate and hence far from God.
The state of prayer is a condition free from compulsion that through desire for the highest good conducts the philosophic and spiritual mind to the summit of mental and spiritual reality.
The one who really wishes to carry out their prayer should rule not only over their lust and anger, but become free of every compulsive thought.
By turning away every compulsive thought, the one who loves God continually converses with him as with a father.
Why do demons want to work up within us gluttony, sexual immorality, greed, anger, grudges, and the other compulsions? So that the mind would grow dull by them and thence unable carry out its prayer as it ought. After all, when the compulsions of the irrational part of the soul are in charge, they do not allow the mind to be moved in accordance with reason and to seek eagerly the God who is himself Rationality and Word.
We pursue virtues so that we may grasp the rational principles of the natural world, and pursue these so that we may grasp the Word who is himself rationality. Now it is precisely in the state of prayer that he likes to reveal himself.
For my presentation today at Catholic University of America’s conference on “Christian Culture and Cultures in the Patristic Age,” I’ve created with the Greek and English text of the poem I’ll be discussing (Gregory of Nazianzus’ poem 1.1.11, On the Incarnation). I’m particularly exited to show off the capabilities of hypothes.is, an excellent annotation tool.
You may find the demo site here: https://gregory.equul.us.
The last 15 months have been almost dizzying. In that period, my wife gave birth to our second child; we moved twice and bought a house; I wrote the bulk of my dissertation, defended it, and graduated; and orchestrated a career change. It’s that last I’d like to reflect on here. Deciding to forego the tenure track job search was both painful and liberating; before too much time passes, I want to capture my thoughts.
Like many PhD candidates in the final year of their program, I was torn between two conflicting goals: applying to as many postdocs/teaching jobs as possible, and actually finishing the dissertation. The latter necessarily took precedence– I decided not to teach at all so I could finish, which meant that we were now paying the university a couple of thousand dollars a term for tuition. We were both committed to me finishing. I did apply to a few posts, and put considerable effort into both, but, as I fully expected, neither worked out. When 2019 rolled around, I saw only two academic options: 1) trying to string together a few adjunct posts in the DC area; 2) trying to find a 1–2 year appointment somewhere else in the country. Neither, as you can imagine, sounded particularly appealing. Things at this point came into much clearer focus.
The key question that emerged was this: do I have a strong enough sense of vocation to the academy to justify all the suffering that a tenure-track job search will cause for both me and my family? (Spoiler alert: no!). Throughout my time at Catholic, I felt strongly that what I was doing was worthwhile, regardless of what came next. It was a marvelous investment in both my mind and my soul, and shaped me in ways for which I’ll always be grateful. I embarked on this journey so that I could make meaningful contributions to the scholarship on early Christianity. Yet I began to see that the tenure-track path was not the only, nor necessarily the best path for what I’d set out to do. Though I’d begun with the expectation of eventually being a professor, it was the intellectual work of research that drew me, not teaching in a college setting. All I needed for research was a good library, and then time and space to think and write. The tenure track search promised neither time nor space, and much pain besides.
There were, of course, other reasons for foregoing the tenure track search. My wife, sister and I wanted to stay in the Washington DC area. After 7 years here, we’d developed friendships, particularly at church, that we were loath to give up. For cultural, educational, and demographic reasons we thought it a good place to raise our kids; and my wife loved her job and didn’t want to leave it. So too, my mother wanted to move to be close to us, but couldn’t really do that until we’d committed to being a particular place for a long time. It seemed to me much wiser to put relationships with friends and family before a particular job, because I knew I could find meaningful employment in a variety of settings, not just in the academy. I saw in fact that working outside the academy might give me the stability I need to pursue meaningful research projects in the time I’m not working.
This shift in perspective was easier for me than it would be for most: I had a skill (software development) that is both remunerative and in high-demand (my undergraduate degree is in Computer Science, and I worked at IBM in college as a Software Developer). It was, to use that word again, dizzying to go from a situation in where dozens or hundreds of highly qualified people would apply for a single position (the academy) to a context in which recruiters were calling and sending me e-mails regularly, even though I hadn’t worked as a software developer in 7 years. It wasn’t a cake walk by any means: I had to spend focused time getting caught up technically. But within a couple of months I was earning money as a developer. I started doing some freelance work over the summer, building a book search facility for a small press (https://buzzellbooks.fifthpress.org). In July, I started working in the Division of IT at University of Maryland, College Park as a software developer. Being on staff with a large university means, inter alia, full library privileges, for which I’m enormously thankful. It’s certainly been a challenge to remain connected to intellectual life, but it continues. I’m working slowly on a book proposal; this week I give a research presentation related to my dissertation work; and in January, I’ll present at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies, the national academic organization for Classical Literature.
When I talk to friends still in graduate school, many tell me, “I wish I also had those technical skills!” The implication is that such a transition is impossible for them because they weren’t programmers in a previous life. It certainly was an enormous advantage for me that I had that prior experience. But my ability to write software was actually integrally connected with my ability to read classical languages (code is language, after all). So I’m convinced that nearly anyone smart enough to be in a PhD program that requires foreign language is also smart enough to learn to write software; it’s just a matter of time and opportunity. It’s also important that the intangible skills gained in a PhD (dedication to a long-term project, time management, self-motivation, analysis, writing…) are all extremely valuable in the marketplace; it does, however, require creative reconfiguration of how you see both yourself and present yourself to potential employers. The jump was easier for me than it would be for most (which is not to say it wasn’t painful and stressful). But above all, people in PhD programs (and those adjuncting afterwards) need to realize that they have autonomy. My last few years would have been considerably less stressful had I realized that sooner.
The change has certainly been painful, as all change is. We grow attached to our visions of the future; I’d imagined I’d end up teaching in some small liberal arts college in some small town. Visiting such places does make me yearn sometimes for a different modus vivendi. Friends and professors have been supportive by and large, but there’s certainly disappointment too– “o we’d hoped you would be the one to land that tenure track job!” And yet when I see how beautifully things have worked out, I’m overwhelmed by the mercy of the One who orchestrates all things with more intricate care than I could fathom.
What about research? One of the things I learned in my last year was that I could only do serious research for about 20 hours a week. I saw that even with 10 hours a week, I’d be able to make legitimate progress on research goals (articles, translations, etc.) During my final year, I had also gotten in the habit of getting up early before my kids got up to work for 60–90 minutes. I’ve maintained that practice since starting work as a developer. So there’s consistent time built into my schedule to do things not related to my full-time job (as it happens, I’ve been using that time to freelance lately). Not being under the eye of a hiring committee also affords me greater flexibility in the types of intellectual work I do. I can work on translations or editions instead of articles and monographs, for instance, or submit my work only to presses/journals that support open access. I’ll also have space to engage in digital humanities endeavors that wouldn’t necessarily map well onto a traditional publication. So I’m excited about the possibilities for my research. We’ll see what comes of it.
This Friday (Oct. 4, 2019), I’ll be giving a presentation at a conference at CUA devoted to Christian Culture in the Patristic age (program here). The presentation is devoted to Gregory’s poem 1.1.11, On the Incarnation (see my blog post here, for more on that poem). The presentations are aimed at a general audience, so if you’re in the area of Washington DC it would be a lovely way to spend an Autumn Friday. Prof. Robert Wilken will be delivering the keynote.
The entire war waged between us and the unclean spirits is for nothing other than spiritual prayer. Nothing else is so hateful and hostile to them and so beautiful and life-giving to us.