Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 1

jail-3-4X3The gentlemen I’ve been visiting in my local jail for the past decade live a daily existence, I’ve often considered, not unlike monks in the monastery I’ve also visited.

They don’t have their wives or girlfriends with them. They all wear the same plain garment—not black robes, but old red scrubs. Their hair often grows scraggly, as they—like monks—don’t have many mirrors. They don’t care what they look like. The food isn’t very flavorful. They’re cut off from what used to be their lives, their own hustles and habits.

Their contact with those outside—overpriced collect calls, the occasional letter—is limited. A good number of them spend a great deal of time praying, reading, writing, contemplating their lives on a level deeper than they would have outside these walls. They spend most of the day in small rooms called cells.

The most important and obvious difference, I tell them, is that the monks I’ve met choose to live this way.

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Breaking the Fall in Alice McDermott’s Someone

SomeoneAt the beginning of Alice McDermott’s latest novel, Someone, an unattractive but good-natured girl divulges her deepest desire. One day, coming home on the subway, she fell against a man—someone who managed to catch her—an event that was memorable because he was kind in the way that he did it. It’s clear that in that short moment she comes to love him, as we are fully capable of doing with strangers—even those who will always remain strangers.

She does not see the man again, but that does not stop her from looking. Laughing at her own foolishness, she says that she finds herself watching for him—subway ride after ride—in hopes of another such encounter. If it ever happened again, this time she would fall against him on purpose, to be caught by design. Because the best thing she has known in life so far has been the very fact that she was caught, and that someone was kind to her in the act of doing so.

This character, richly drawn, makes her appearance early in the novel, and like the man she hopes to encounter but never will, evanesces from the story within a few short pages. But the impression that she makes upon the narrator, Mary—a child when she first hears the story—lasts throughout the balance of the work. The rest of Mary’s life is marked by the relation of this yearning—that there be someone there when she, and those she loves, invariably, ineluctably, inescapably, fall.

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Greg Wolfe Made Me a Better Writer: 25 Years of Image

proofreadingGuest post by William Coleman

To celebrate Image’s twenty-fifth anniversary we are posting a series of essays by people who have encountered our programs over the years.

My first task at Image was to write to Ray Bradbury. That, I told my disbelieving self, was my job: to send proof pages of new work to the man whose old work so absorbed me at fifteen that all I could do for a year was write version after watered-down version of Dandelion Wine.

What saved my cover letter from devolving into a Chris Farley SNL sketch (“You remember when you said the birds scattered like skipped stones across the inverted pond of heaven? Yeah…that was…that was awesome.”) was my overweening desire not to be sent home on the very morning I began acting as managing editor of Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion.

Luckily for me, my predecessor, Richard Wilkinson, had left some ready language in the Dell, and I was able to maintain my position.

Close to six, Image’s founder Greg Wolfe returned from his think-tank day job somewhere in the woods of Delaware and invited me to join him and his wife Suzanne in their living room for drinks. To accomplish this, I walked all of thirty feet. In those days, the whole of Images office space comprised Greg’s study, next to the family laundry room.

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The Trouble with Time

father_time.jpg2They talk. They talk to. They talk about. God. Please, God. Dear God. Thank you, God. Comfort, heal, save us, God our God dear God. They should talk. That’s what they’ve been told.

I don’t know. I don’t know from God.

They say God is the One who shaped the ear. I’ve said it, too. God, the One who gave life listening: Ishmael, God listens, God hears. They say God is near, near to all. I’ve said it, too. Near to all who call upon God in Truth. Where is that, Truth? Near here?

They have names for God: Rock, Redeemer. What shall I call you? And if I call, will you listen, respond?

You are near. I know you are here.

I’m exhausted. You: inexhaustible.

I swoon, wobble. You’re steady.

Are you everything they say God is?

Time, Your most precious gift, they say, talking to God about you.

And here you are: a few moments of silent prayer as the organ softly plays. It’s my favorite moment of the service at Temple Emanuel, the temple of my youth. But the Temple has moved on; it has followed the Jews of Cherry Hill east. You moved with it. I, too, have moved away, and you’ve stayed with me wherever I’ve roamed, settled. I can’t get away from you.

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Riding the Waves

Woodlief photoMy sons argue over Avengers characters. The littlest insists he’s Captain America. Another claims Hawkeye. There’s an argument over Ironman. They resolve it by awarding that honor to me, given that I’m a smartass and look a little like Robert Downey, Jr.

I argue that I’m the Hulk. I flex my muscles. They roll their eyes, but their mother would understand. She told me once, not long before our divorce, that I am the angriest man she’s ever known. A therapist once told me I’ve been angry since childhood. Another said I’ve been depressed my entire life, like my mother before me. I told him about the first diagnosis. He shrugged his shoulders. Flight or fight, does it really matter when your enemy is yourself? That’ll be 100 dollars.

I don’t remember if October was when the weight always came closest to leveling me, or if that cycle commenced after my daughter died. I suppose no matter which therapist was correct: I’ll always have something to blame my mother for, because she died in October as well.

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