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Dr. Bennet’s Top

July 31, 2020

Embers from the Fire
A weekly blog by Deacon Dan Wagnitz for the Quad Parish Community

Dr. Bennet’s Top – 7/31/2020

Dr. Bennett was a cannon ball of a man with fierce eyebrows who constantly puffed a cigarette
as he paced back and forth while he lectured. He was an award-winning poet and a man I
deeply admired and I was just a bit afraid of. He refused to apologize for using a vocabulary
that had many students scribble notes furiously with a pen in one hand and a dictionary in the
other. It was an honor when as an English major in my junior year I had already exhausted my
course options and he agreed to teach me 1:1.

I met him at the service elevator on the ground floor of Boyle Hall. He took the service elevator
because with his age, weight and smoking habit the stairs were too much for him to reach his
4 th floor office. We got in and he slid the door shut and it began creaking and ratting upwards.
“I call it my double indemnity,” he grinned as he sensed my apprehension.

To my relief we did make it to his office floor. When we stepped out, he held his hand up and
motioned for me to stop. “Wait here. I have something to show you.” A few minutes later he
came back; he had a top in the palm of his hand and he was busy winding the starter cord
around it. When the cord was completely wrapped, he snapped his wrist and the top began to
spin on the linoleum floor. We watched. And we watched. Minutes went by. He suddenly
bent down, snatched it up and pronounced, “Well we’re not trying to set any records today.”

He motioned me into his office. It was just what I expected. Books lined the shelves. Books
were piled up on the floor. Books were stacked on his desk. “Just think,” he said. After several
minutes he asked me to tell him everything I had observed. I can’t recall my exact list after 40
years but if you picture that top spinning in your mind I bet we could come up with a good list
right now: stillness, hand, action, cord peeling off, motion, axis, speed, balance . . . well, we’re
not trying to set any record today. You get the point.

Dr. Bennett and I spent the entire semester working on that top. We discussed observations,
thoughts, metaphors, symbol, verbs, nouns – all the marvels of language. It is amazing the
complexity your mind is capable of if you release it. It is a powerful skill to train your mind to
really observe. We don’t observe with our senses, our senses are simply the tools that all feed
into the mind. There is where truth is uncovered and where imagination is discovered. This is
why St. Paul urges us, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the
renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing
and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

As humans, especially my male counterparts and I, we want to act, to do, to be busy and to get
on with it. That can be good. But much more can be accomplished, a greater good can be
accomplished, when we first stop, observe, listen, and seek to discern God’s will.

Dr. Bennett also taught me that all great literature comes back around to God. He stated it as
fact; he didn’t tell me why. But I think it is because all great literature leads you to contemplate
meaning, the purpose of life, death and eternity. When we contemplate the ultimate realities it
always leads us to God. And it is when we enter into the act of contemplation that we are most
like God. God contemplates us into existence. “All were created through him, all were created
for him, He is before all else that is, in Him everything continues in being.” (Colossians 1:17)

His Peace,

Deacon Dan


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