The act of “selving” is poet G.M. Hopkins’ idea of—and invented word for—the crucial human act. The whimsical image on this book’s cover is of the twenty-year old Hopkins looking at himself in a lake, wondering, no doubt, about what kind of man he saw down there, never dreaming he might be sketching a poet to be memorialized in marble on the floor of Westminster Abbey next to Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth. Eighteen years after the cover sketch, he put the same puzzlement into words in the octet of his 1882 sonnet.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name:
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same,
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells:
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came. . . .
This book flows from these words. Hopkins claims that birds, stones, musical instruments—and humans—"deal out that being indoors each one dwells, selves. . . ," and concludes "What I do is me."
The book carries out this "selving" theme. For each of our fifteen narrators, it is an exercise in story theology, working from their own story. They write about their work experiences—their teaching, their writing, their relationships—and identify explicitly or implicitly the tasks that were the most enlivening, the most meaningful—even if they did not succeed. The meaning, the spirituality, proceeded from the work. We had asked the contributors: write about the thing you’ve done which you feel came from your inmost self. Identify the times you felt most yourself, most vitalized. What might be your "unique niche of belonging" in the great scheme of things? Chapter One strikes our keynote. Thereafter, the contributors are all colleagues in some way of Prof. Eugene Bianchi who is now retiring after a lifetime of selving. They add their stories to his in an attempt to celebrate here what, over the years, made their kingfisher selves catch fire. — From the Editor’s Prelude by William Cleary