The past few weeks have offered us a particularly difficult news cycle. A passenger plane was shot down in Ukraine. People continue to die in the Israel-Palestine conflict. And at home in America, children have crossed our borders alone and scared, longing for something less violent than the places they left.
I find myself wanting to do something, anything, to make it better. At this point I have been to all the relief websites. I know I can give money. If we knew Spanish, we could foster a child. And past that, I am basically out of options and stuck feeling…
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From her stunning essay, “Revelation”:
“When I was twenty-one, I became a born-again Christian. It was a random and desperate choice; I had dropped out of high school and left home at sixteen, and while I’d had some fun, by twenty-one, thinks were looking squalid and stupid. My boyfriend had dumped me and I was living in a rooming house and selling hideous rodium jewelry on the street in Toronto, which is where the “Jesus freaks” approached me. I had been solicited by these people before and usually gave them short shrift, but on that particular evening I was at a low ebb. They told me that if I let Jesus into my heart right there, even if I just said the words, that everything would be okay. I said, all right, I’ll try it. They praised God and moved on.
Even though my conversion was pretty desultory, I decided to pray that night. I had never seriously prayed before, and all my pent-up desperation and fear made it an act of furious psychic propulsion that lasted almost an hour. It was a very private experience that I would find hard to describe; suffice to say that I felt I was being listened to.”
This morning’s entry from The Mockingbird Devotional is another gem from David Zahl.
I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for help!” You came near when I called you and you said, “Do not fear!” (Lamentations 3:55-57, NIV)
Prayer can be confusing. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done” (Matt 6:10). But he also tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matt 7:7). Should we be correct or should we be honest? Those two things often seem diametrically opposed.
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Another stellar contribution from Emily Stubbs:
In regard to Patterson Hood—front man for the Drive-By Truckers—my friend Graham recently said, “As far as I am concerned, he’s right up there with Rudyard Kipling.” In my humble opinion, and I think it is obvious that at least Graham would agree with me here, Patterson Hood is the greatest storyteller of our generation (that is not to say that Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell, who is currently crushing it in his solo career, are not incredibly talented as well). Yes, maybe I am super biased because I am a Southerner and, moreover, I…
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I recently read Tim Keller’s book on work, Every Good Endeavor. One of the most important takeaways for me was learning more about John Coltrane, who is the inspiration for Keller’s title. Keller quotes the original liner notes to Coltrane’s most famous album, A Love Supreme, which use the words “every good endeavor.” This week I bought the album, something I should have done a long time ago. Here are those original liner notes, now in a CD booklet. Keller only excerpts the notes, but I feel the whole thing was worth sharing—”a love supreme” turns out to be Coltrane’s…
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For the rich possibilities of dialogue between 80s New Wave and the old, old story, look no further! This one comes to us from Tyler Beane:
This is a great Aimee Mann tune from the late ’80s when she was still heading the band ‘Til Tuesday. The song is about a gal experiencing what I read as depression following the loss of “a boy,” probably a boyfriend. The song has a lightness to it, a breeziness to the pop. However, when the song moves to the lyrics “This time” in “Why must I take it so hard this time” in the…
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From the “Chorale” section, which is part of “The Summons”:
Our Father, whose creative Will
Asked Being for us all,
Confirm it that Thy Primal Love
May weave in us the freedom of
The actually deficient on
The justly actual.
Though written by Thy children with
A smudged and crooked line,
The Word is ever legible,
Thy Meaning unequivocal,
And for Thy Goodness even sin
Is valid as a sign.
Inflict Thy promises with each
Occasion of distress,
That from our incoherence we
May learn to put our trust in Thee,
And brutal fact persuade us to
Adventure, Art, and Peace.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
at the foot of the universe
from this body
and pain (a condition
Clothed now in light
clothed in abyss, at the prow
of the desert
Mercy on us all
For as much burn as we’ve given David Foster Wallace on this site, I was surprised and a bit embarrassed to realize that we’ve never quoted from his opus Infinite Jest. Well, no longer! Here’s a favorite: the stunning passage where Wallace recounts one of his “protagonists”, Don Gately, praying for the first time. It doubles as a memorable description of what it looks like for a person to turn to God in a meaningful way (in something resembling our context). Gately spends much of the narrative as a resident and employee of Ennet House, a halfway house in Boston,…
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From the wonderful play The Cocktail Party, well into the poet’s Christian phase. A man’s wife leaves him and an Unidentified Guest – who is almost a bona fide theophany (Eliot’s God prefers gin) – gives the man, Edward, some advice on how to handle his crisis:
…to approach the stranger
Is to invite the unexpected, release a new force,
Or let the genie out of the bottle.
It is to start a train of events
Beyond your control…
Most of the time we take ourselves for granted,
As we have to, and live on a little knowledge
About ourselves as we were. Who are you now?
You don’t know any more than I do,
But rather less. You are nothing but a set
Of obsolete responses. The one thing to do
Is to do nothing. Wait.
But waiting is the one thing impossible.
Besides, don’t you see that it makes me look ridiculous?
Guest: It will do you no harm to find yourself ridiculous.
Resign yourself to be the fool you are.
That is the best advice I can give you.
“Waiting is the one thing impossible” – in Eliot’s spirituality, activity and self-righteousness and pretension must be cleared from the minds of those who know only “a heap of broken images”, who are only that, and cannot be otherwise. For a man as attuned to grace and broken on the wheels of life as he, the one genuine spiritual vocation is the desperate plea, “teach us to care and not to care/ teach us to sit still.”
Via The New Yorker, more profundity from Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal, which hits shelves in early November. One even detects a whiff of Louis CK in there (or vice versa):
Dear God, I am so discouraged about my work. I have the feeling of discouragement that is. I realize I don’t know what I realize. Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted. That is so far from what I deserve, of course, that I am naturally struck with the nerve of it. Contrition in me is largely imperfect. I don’t know if I’ve ever been sorry for a sin because it hurt You. That kind of contrition is better than none but it is selfish. To have the other kind, it is necessary to have knowledge, faith extraordinary. All boils down to grace, I suppose. Again asking God to help us be sorry for having hurt him. I am afraid of pain and I suppose that is what we have to have to get grace. Give me the courage to stand the pain to get the grace, Oh Lord. Help me with this life that seems so treacherous, so disappointing.
Francis Spufford on the horizontal power of prayer, known uniquely to Christianity (from Unapologetic):
Christians too, of course, draw consolation from the patterns faith makes as it repeats in time. For us too there’s an important wisdom in not leading a life whose only measure is the impulse of the moment. But our main comfort in the face of unjustifiable suffering is very different. It’s not an investment in order we’re asked to make; it’s a gamble on change. Our hope in not in time cycling on predictably and benevolently under an almighty hand. Our hope is in time interrupted, disrupted,…
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