Recap of “The Spirituality of ‘Walden'”: Versions of the Sacred in Play

Junior English major Reese Harper recently attended Dr. Bob Davis’ colloquium event, “Sacred Play: The Spirituality of Walden” and published an article covering the event in the Wittenberg Torch.

On behalf of The Torch, here is Reese’s article.

Last Thursday, Professor of English Bob Davis presented a synopsis of his upcoming book to be titled “Sacred Play: Spirituality and American Literature.” The book will focus on American spirituality through the lens of Henry David Thoreau’s transcendentalist literary masterpiece Walden.

Former English professor Emerita Mimi Dixon introduced Davis and “Walden” itself.

“Bob’s classes are interdisciplinary, integrating literature and science, for example,” Dixon said. “Thoreau similarly combines religion with literature in Walden.”

Published in 1854, Walden details Thoreau’s thoughts and experiences in response to a pond near his residence over the course of two years. The text engages with themes such as contemplation and man’s relationship with nature. However, Davis is most interested in Thoreau’s version of the sacred: buoyancy, freedom, playfulness and possibility.

Davis referred to Thoreau’s philosophy of the sacred as “divine play” and this term will form the basis of Davis’ book.

“Thoreau’s literature is based on experiences of the sacred that are larger and more enduring than ourselves,” Davis said. “Play is an experimental model of religious devotion tuned in to the divine.”

Davis quickly clarified that Thoreau’s spirituality differs from the piety associated with organized religion. Thoreau resisted “associating faith with the special province of religion,” Davis said.

“Thoreau compares religion to a pond, its ripples different than ones caused by insects or fish,” Davis said. “His goal of religious practice is perseverance and being faithful to a divine spirit that’s infinitely variable and free.”

After clarifying Thoreau’s spirituality, Davis shifted to the text’s historical and theological origins.

“Versions of the sacred in play can be found in the theology of south Asia,” Davis said. “We know that in the fall of 1840, Thoreau studied key texts in Hindu spirituality. These texts refer to some gods as ‘divine creators.’ They are ends in themselves. Their existence is play, and it is sacred. For example, Vishnu is both discreet and indiscreet, substance and spirit. Krishna appeared with multiple faces studded with jewels, a god whose face is everywhere. Likewise, in the plot of Walden, the pond is a sacred grove, a prism that helps Thoreau experience objects from multiple standpoints, its prisms and hidden facets. The pond opens his mind to a god whose face is everywhere.”

Davis also found origins of the text’s spirituality in Christian thought.

Some Christian theologians refer to a concept like sacred play called ‘nimbleness of mind:’ being able to sense shifts in perception,” Davis said. “Christ ‘plays’ in many places. Jesus is a gardener, carpenter, revolutionary or stranger depending on the scene where he appears in the gospels.”

For those unfamiliar with Walden and skeptical of the immense symbolism within his pond, Davis concisely reasserted his position.

“People who have never read Walden would say ‘it’s just water;’ it’s never just water in Walden,” Davis said. “Walden is a very busy book. It uses up every myth, idea and color the mind has made up before it allows the one to wander.”

Davis did, however, qualify his findings.

“When other people break his rules of faithful living, Thoreau is just as quick to condemn as adherents to organized religion,” Davis said. “Thoreau’s lifelong quarrel with dogmatic Christianity was also a lifelong quarrel with himself—a rigid and serious man who claimed to never have changed his mind about anything. He shares that head-on religion is dangerous, and pursuing god directly leads to various ego traps. He tells us to look at god like stars, not face to face, but to notice them from the side.”

In the end, Davis succinctly relayed what he believes lies at the core of Walden.

“Thoreau teaches us to love our day, love our homework and love the facets of the pond,” Davis said.


Dr. Bob Davis to Talk “Spirituality of Walden” in Colloquium

Next Thursday, Dr. Bob Davis will be presenting a lecture entitled, “Sacred Play: The Spirituality of Walden” in Ness Auditorium.

English majors that attend will receive colloquium credit!


For a list of future colloquium events, click here.

A Civil Rights Activist Too Often Forgotten: Bayard Rustin

Last week, a lecture series featuring the life of Bayard Rustin, a gay Civil Rights activist, was presented at Wittenberg University.

Courtesy of The Torch, Witty English features junior English major Reese Harper’s article, who covered the event.

When thinking about the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, big names like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are usually the first to come to mind. However, many other figures were involved in the movement and not all of their legacies appear in history textbooks.

Last Friday, scholars and activists, including Jared Leighton, Ph.D., Walter Naegle and John D’Emilio, Ph.D., visited Wittenberg’s Shouvlin Center. This event was in conjunction with Wittenberg’s English professor Rick Incorvati’s “Writing for Social Change” class to bring light to a civil rights activist too often forgotten: Bayard Rustin.

Rustin’s greatest accomplishment included organizing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August of 1963, which advocated for the social, economic and political of rights of African Americans and is where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The march resulted in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

Historians and social scientists cite Rustin’s sexuality—as an openly gay man—as his greatest obstacle in the face of his opponents and the main reason his legacy is often forgotten. Other civil rights activists believed that Rustin’s sexuality would undermine the movement and although Rustin hoped to connect the black civil rights movement with the fight for gay rights, those around him feared that they would lose key forces working with them, such as churches.

Leighton, a professor of African-American and LGBTQ+ history at the University of Nebraska started off the lecture by reading a paper he wrote about the connections between black civil rights activists and LGBTQ+ activists in the 1960’s. He noted that LGBTQ+ people came together around the civil rights movement because of its high ideals of equal opportunities and freedom. However, gay rights activists tended to organize separately, rather than drawing civil rights networks to form a massive group.

In response to the subversion of LGBTQ+ civil rights activists in the 1960’s, “The entirety of the past is not always legible, especially when discussing oppression,” Leighton said.

D’Emilio, author of “Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin,” also noted the difficulty of honoring lesser-known activists like Rustin.

“The way history is put out there, only the biggest names come out to us unless we’re actively searching for people like Bayard Rustin,” he said.

D’Emilio also discussed the difficulty in “coming out of the closet” during the 1960’s.

“It was nearly impossible to be ‘out’ in the 1960’s,” D’Emilio said. “’Coming out’ was a key phrase, but it meant only allowing other LGBT people know you’re gay.”

The discussion and responses to the essay were followed by Q&A session with the audience that included questions like, “How did you find a way around the family and church being for racial equality but against LGBT rights?” and “How do we increase solidarity between Civil Rights Groups and LGBT activists?”

Naegle, Rustin’s former partner, answered from his first-hand experiences.

“The response to the church and family is alternative institutions: alternative definitions of family and relationships as well as the creation of new churches,” Naegle said. “Rustin knew nonviolence and had the practical experience that King didn’t have, but sometimes King found it difficult that Rustin was gay.”

Naegle connected the question of solidarity to one of the most prominent civil rights movements today, Black Lives Matter.

“We need open communication between groups along mutual causes and true inclusiveness to make sure everyone has their voice heard,” Naegle said. “I could see it happening in BLM, considering two of its three founding members identify as queer. It’s intersectional in its founding.”

The closing question from an audience member asked if Rustin, as a leader in non-violent change particularly, felt that civil disobedience undermined the cause of civil rights.

“From protest to politics, no matter what movement, we will never win on our own. We wouldn’t be in this situation in first place if we could, and that was Rustin’s underlying principle,” Naegle said.

Welcome Back!

Witty English welcomes all of the new freshmen and returning students back to Wittenberg for the fall semester and the 2018-2019 academic year.

The English Department’s first event will occur on Wednesday, September 5th at 4:00 p.m. in Ness Auditorium.

For those considering an English major or Creative Writing and/or Journalism minors, this is a great opportunity to talk with current majors/minors and faculty/staff. Undeclared students may also have the opportunity to declare their major/minor at the event.

For declared majors/minors, class pictures will be taken at 4:30 p.m. Pizza and light refreshments will be served promptly at 4:00 p.m.


Matchbook Poems: ‘Hook, line, sinker’

At Thursday, April 12th’s Matchbook Poetry event, many students came forward to read poems as created from the lines in their matchbooks. Some have asked that their poems be shared on Witty English, so over the course of the rest of the semester, these poems will be released in installments.

Here is the sixth installment of the matchbook poems, senior Drew Pool’s poem: ‘Hook, line, sinker.’

They said they still love you.
Just needed some time to figure things out.
They told others you were insane.
Denying every sweet nothing they whispered to you last time you spoke.

They said you will always be the one they think of for a future.
A wedding and children always something that would be shared.
They started dating again,
Between the lines of lies they sprouted to you.

They said they were just trying to mend,
But in the placing of their stitches,
They lacerated your heart.

They had your heart in the palm of their hands.
Instead of caring they placed a hook,
Line and sinker.
To drag you down to the depths of depression,
Mental degradation and pain the only result.

You were asked how you could not be getting the hint!
When they were giving you facts to contradict them.
You were pulled in close with a kiss,
They would later compare you to a rapist for the kiss born of a promise to rekindle
The love you once had.

You started to mend.
They came back again.
In your naive heart you opened up again.
They ripped you up again.

Time and time again
There were millions of chances.
They had every single one.
They stretched the never ending line,
Until it broke.

Now you are a husk.
Unable to open up like before,
Unable to love like before,
Unable to commit when commitment was your key promise before,
Until all that you can say to any chance at love is,
I’m sorry.

Matchbook Poems: ‘Hypocrite’

At Thursday, April 12th’s Matchbook Poetry event, many students came forward to read poems as created from the lines in their matchbooks. Some have asked that their poems be shared on Witty English, so over the course of the rest of the semester, these poems will be released in installments.

Here is the fourth installment of the matchbook poems, sophomore Veda Krumpe’s poem: ‘Hypocrite.’

The cigarette smoking coming off her smells like expensively cured cheese.
But it doesn’t really matter because you wanna screw and it’s night and she’s a girl.
You size her up: her thighs, her arms, down to the sweat that’s glistening on the bags of her eyes
The red traffic light being all you have to see
Cause she’s sitting on a curb in a California street.

Like momma always told you, “it’s what’s inside that counts.”
But you know that’s a little more than wrong
Because if it were true you’d be attracted to both sexes.

But you’re not. Because the outside matters, too, you know.
So you keep sizing her up and begin to imagine how easy it would be;
No strings attached, you think. A small price, a bang, and then back to “real life”

And what is that price?
Well she’ll take things other than money, just so long as it has value.
And you think again, no strings attached.

It’s your first time, so it’s a little strange.
Not your first time with a woman, but your first time nonetheless.
And up close, you can taste the cigarettes,
the light is yellow now
neither of you are on the curb anymore.

And then bam!!
Three months later
She’s got pants instead of hot shorts
and you see her in the sun
She’s not that pretty, but she’s not that ugly either.

Her lack of ugliness is the only thing you had to be thankful for
When she tells you
You knocked up the whore on the side of the road.

And while you, the real you, the ones listening to me
Say “I’m not him. Shame on him. I’m not her. Shame on her,”
Realize that hypocrisy is the only commandment you follow

Because this is Genesis 38.

Matchbook Poems: ‘The Garden of Forever’

At Thursday, April 12th’s Matchbook Poetry event, many students came forward to read poems as created from the lines in their matchbooks. Some have asked that their poems be shared on Witty English, so over the course of the rest of the semester, these poems will be released in installments.

Here is the third installment of the matchbook poems, junior Bayleigh Thompson’s poem: ‘The Garden of Forever.’

I pretend that I am a garden
Because at least the buds
Blooming from my lips
Sound like the illusion
Of forever;

Pluck the petals from my skin
And give them a name like
A memory—
When they wilt in the kiss
Of the wind, at least some part of me
Is not bound to the soil.

There are only ghosts
Of ground carnations;
There is no room for any other root
To reach me beneath the flowerbeds
With these weeds
Wrapped around my neck;
Everything sprouts withered,
But the garden never

See, there is something eternal
In decapitated stems—
Inhale the dust of drying leaves;
I can pretend that I am a garden—
Drinking memories from the sun
And find forever
In the ash.

Matchbook Poems: ‘They believe me to be empty’

At Thursday, April 12th’s Matchbook Poetry event, many students came forward to read poems as created from the lines in their matchbooks. Some have asked that their poems be shared on Witty English, so over the course of the rest of the semester, these poems will be released in installments.

Here is the second installment of the matchbook poems, sophomore Nikki Howard’s poem: ‘They believe me to be empty’.

We danced under white veils
With his wide family and those friends.
We knew it to be ours. That’s how it begins.

Consummating our history
With the encumming desire of youth
Preparing my body for the traditional use

Starving for me as if my absence twists your stomach
Into knots until the craving for my body is fulfilled
While those around you beg for your legacy to be instilled

Bruising my arms and womb
With sucks and proclamations of your thirst
Your see nothing less of a curse

It only appears as a slightly bloodied remnant
Of what the lurkers have expect my body to conceive
And when they realize I might be empty, they convince you to leave.

I am no mountain
Merely a pavement that you walk upon too fiercely
Leaving my insides dull and weary

Their satisfaction is worth more than my capability
Ignorant to the importance of my own heart
They convince you I am just a defective part

No love, just legacy
But I am not the kind to walk away from someone who has touched me
I stay and endure the ridicule of my bodily functions, I don’t leave

But you did
Even in my exhaustion I ran for you
But a legacy you could not lose

Perhaps, I am empty because I gave so much to you
You exhaust my entity and I have surrounded the pit of my being
Perhaps, this is the reasoning my womb is fleeing

We stood under the veil of the rushed traditional expectations
With his wide family and those friends.
They thought it was theirs. That’s how it ends.

Matchbook Poems: ‘do as i say, not as i do’

At last evening’s Matchbook Poetry event, many students came forward to read poems as created from the lines in their matchbooks. Some have asked that their poems be shared on Witty English, so over the course of the rest of the semester, these poems will be released in installments.

Here is the first installment of the matchbook poems, beginning with sophomore Emma Kilpatrick’s poem: ‘do as i say, not as i do’.

Because she did. Because
she asked me to
be kind, I was cruel.
She asked me to listen,
I spoke. I screamed. I fought
every word. I would not give in to
“do as I say,
not as I do.”
Because she asked me to
stay away from you,
I ran at you
full-force and the force
of the collision
shattered my ribcage.
Because she asked me to
hold still while she tried
to bandage me up,
I could only hear her tell me
to rip off the gauze,
to escape, to
Because she asked me to
relent, relax, shut my eyes,
“it’ll only hurt for a second,”
my shattered ribcage and I
carried ourselves away
and there are still pieces
of bone lodged in my heart.

Recap on the Literary Pub Fest: Awards and Superlatives For Everyone!

Tuesday evening provided the perfect amount of awards, food, and literature for the English Department’s annual Literary Pub Fest.

Juniors and SAGE Co-Presidents Jenn Ryan and Lexi Gallion hosted the event with Dr. Scot Hinson emceeing the evening.

Students, both within the English Department and out, were encouraged to enjoy the selections of food in Founders Pub while having an open bar open to students and faculty.

Hinson started off the event by first reading a poem he had written in elementary school, entitled “If I Was A Hippie,” before handing out awards for the annual Literary Awards.

Here are the winners of this year’s Literary Awards:

Ostrom Award for Sophomore: Reese Harper, ’20

Ostrom Award for Junior: Jennifer Ryan, ’19

Ostrom Award for Senior: Jayne Stone, ’18

Poetry Prize: Nikki Howard, ’20

The Sherwood Anderson Prize for Fiction: Jayne Stone

Non-fiction Prose Prize: Nikki Howard, ’20

Playwriting/Screenwriting: Morgan Beechey, ’18

The Lester S. Crowley Creativity Award: Jayne Stone, ’18

Excellence in Literary Studies: Alex Sharp, ’18, and Jayne Stone, ’18

Allen J. Koppenhaver Literary Award: Anissa Dann, ‘18, and Daniel Murray, ‘18

Both SAGE Co-Presidents, on behalf of the rest of SAGE, handed out faculty superlatives, which drew great reactions from the crowd, especially Dr. Cynthia Richards when she won her superlative, saying that it was the best award she’d ever won.

Here are the superlatives that were handed out to faculty this year:

Dr. Lori Askeland: Most Likely To Outlaw Love

Dr. Scot Hinson: Most Likely To Fit In Faulkner Fiction (For Fun)

Dr. Mike Mattison: Most Likely To Dress Like His Son

Dr. Michael McClelland: Most Likely To Add A Secret Lover To A Student’s Story

Dr. Cynthia Richards: Most Likely To Injure Herself While Pumping Iron With Her Son Resulting In An Existential Epiphany

Dr. Shadawn Battle: Most Likely To Run For President

Dr. Rick Incorvati: Most Likely To Be Found At A Coffee Shop

Dr. Polak: Most Likely To Know That She Is Overestimating The Reading Capabilities of Her Students / Special Award (presented by Shane Harris): Most Likely To Have A Student In Her Class Admit To Waterboarding Himself

Dr. Robin Inboden: Most Likely To Drop Everything To Babysit Willow

Prof. D’Arcy Fallon: Most Likely To Make A Bus Sound Delicious

Christina Reynolds: Wizard Behind the Curtain