Good Zeal


A stippled greywhite sky of colorless incandescence lit up this afternoon’s walk through the prairie grasses of the Saint John’s arboretum. Burnt orange and yellow wildflowers burst like sparks into the ashen air and the silvery sky made them seem even brighter than usual. As I walked, I thought about Hugh of Saint-Victor, whose work I am reading for a paper that I am writing.

Hugh was a 12th century Augustinian Canon, which is a kind of urban monk who lives in religious community at a parish in a town or city. As a student, Hugh left his native Germany for Saint-Victor in Paris where he spent the rest of his life.

With this background, he knew something about the value of being away from home, but he also knew about longing for home. In the Didascalicon, his guide to the Christian life, he proposes “foreign soil” for practice in developing spiritual detachment and goes on to write about our relationship to place and about being at home and not at home in the world.

My season of study in Minnesota is indeed valuable, like a golden flower bursting from the earth. But I miss my monastic community with a sweet longing that hovers over the prairie like a stippled greywhite sky.

With Hugh as my companion I feel myself to be in good company, knowing that this earth is both home and not home, and grateful for the incandescence that makes even “foreign soil” glow with the presence of God.

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